A three-day summit of Vatican ambassadors from the Middle East and North Africa, called upon by Pope Francis to discuss persecution of Christians by Islamist extremists in the region, concluded this weekend with a call for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reaffirmation of military force against ISIS.
Vatican envoys from Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Libya, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey met in the Vatican for three days to discuss how persecution of Christian minorities in the region could be better prevented.
The region has an estimated 7.5 million Christians.
"The recent conflict in Gaza recalls that the situation is serious and difficult, but it is necessary to renew diplomatic efforts for a just and lasting solution that respects the rights of both parties to the conflict," the pope said at the summit, which ended Saturday, according to Jerusalem Post.
The pontiff also reaffirmed that military force is justified in the fight against Islamic militants in the Middle East because Christians deserve to peacefully return to their homeland.
ISIS, an al-Qaeda offshoot, has gained control of large swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, its militants have killed hundreds of civilians. Numerous members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities have also been killed, and tens of thousands of them have fled their homes. In Syria, over 150,000 people have fled to Turkey as ISIS men have captured several towns and villages along the border.
The pope spoke about the problem of terrorism, "in which a person's life has no worth."
"He underlined the problem of the trafficking of arms that is at the root of many problems, as well as the humanitarian tragedy lived by the many people who are forced to leave their country," Vatican Press Office Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement.
Francis urged continued prayers and the need to formulate a concrete plan of action at various levels to show the church's solidarity and including the international community in helping the people in need, Fr. Lombardi added.
Fr. Lombardi stressed that "for what concerns the political situation in the Middle East and more in general relationship with countries with a majority of Muslim population, the Holy See has always set as primary issues the protection and respect of Christians and other minority groups as full citizen, and the respect of human rights, and particularly the right to religious freedom," according to Catholic News Agency.
ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, wants to form an Islamic emirate in the Levant region through "jihad." According to the CIA, ISIS has about 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria.
The terror group is believed to have hundreds of foreign fighters, including those from the United States and Europe.
"There are no religious, political or economic factors that can justify what is happening to hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children," Pope Francis said last week. "We are deeply united in our prayers for intercession and in charity towards these suffering members of the body of Christ."