VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis' envoy to Iraq says religious minorities being attacked by Islamic militants must be defended now and given international protection so they can return home, reinforcing the Vatican's position that military force is justified in this case.
Asked about the U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic State, Francis said this week it was "licit" to stop an unjust aggression, but that the international community -- and not just a single country -- must decide how.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni went further in an interview Friday with The Associated Press upon his return from northern Iraq, where he delivered money and met with minority Christians and Yazidis on behalf of the pope. He said Kurdish leaders don't want foreign ground troops, just equipment to fight.
"I found it very, very impressive. They don't want a war. They want just to defend their land," he said.
Filoni said the United Nations or other organizations -- in concert with local, regional and the Iraqi national government -- should be involved in the intervention. But he said there was no question that intervention was necessary.
"The question is, if a people without guns, without any arms, if they have nothing to defend themselves, to whom comes the duty to defend them?" he asked. ""In my opinion, this is not a war when you have two actors facing each other with the same capacities. This is defending the right of defending these poor, simple people who are unable to defend themselves."
The Vatican's position is significant because it often opposes military intervention on the basis of its overall peace message. This case is different, however: Christians are being directly targeted because of their faith and Christian communities, which have existed for 2,000 years in Iraq, have been emptied as a result of the extremists' onslaught.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.