Anglican leader Justin Welby on Friday said Christians faced “elimination” in the Middle East by Islamic State jihadists, labeling the group a modern-day version of the tyrannical biblical king Herod.
IS has attacked Christians, Yazidis, Shiites and other minorities across the region, killing thousands and uprooting ancient communities from ancestral lands.
“They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began,” the archbishop of Canterbury said in his Christmas Day sermon.
“This apocalypse is defined by themselves and heralded only by the angel of death.”
He likened IS to Herod, who according to historical accounts killed several members of his own family and in the Bible massacred Bethlehem’s male infants to prevent the prophesied rise of Jesus.
“To all who have been or are being dehumanized by the tyranny and cruelty of a Herod or an ISIS, a Herod of today, God’s judgement… promises justice,” Welby said, using another acronym for IS.
The group strictly enforces an austere and bloody form of what it calls Islamic law, tolerating no minority sects or even opposing points of view from their Sunni Muslim co-religionists.
The Middle East is home to ancient Christian and other minority communities, but their numbers have diminished rapidly in recent years amid war and mounting religious intolerance.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, issued a Christmas Day prayer that recent UN-backed peace processes for Syria and Libya will quickly end the suffering of their people. He denounced the “monstrous evil” and atrocities they have endured and praised the countries that have taken in their refugees.
Speaking from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis issued a plenary indulgence for Catholics in hopes of spreading the church’s message of mercy in a world torn by war, poverty and extremist attacks. The sun-soaked St. Peter’s Square was under heavy security, as it has been since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks by Islamic extremists that left 130 dead.
An indulgence is an ancient church tradition related to the forgiveness of sins. Francis announced it after delivering his annual “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) speech listing global hotspots and his prayers for an end to human suffering.
Francis referred to the “brutal acts of terrorism” that struck the French capital this year as well as attacks in Egypt’s airspace and in Beirut, Mali and Tunisia. He denounced the ongoing conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine and issued words of consolation to Christians being persecuted for their faith in many parts of the world.
“They are our martyrs of today,” he said.
In an indirect reference to the Islamic State group, he urged the international community to direct its attention to Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, where atrocities “even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples.”
Francis said he hoped the plenary indulgence he issued for this, his Holy Year of Mercy, would encourage the faithful “to welcome God’s mercy in our lives, and be merciful with our brothers to make peace grow.”
“Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he said.