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Pope to Iraqi president: 'I appeal to you with my heart full of pain'

Vatican City

Pope Francis wrote to the president of Iraq, calling for an end to the "brutal suffering of Christians and other religious minorities" and urging political leaders to end the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Francis said in his letter to Iraqi President Fouad Massoum: "I appeal to you with my heart full of pain while I follow the brutal suffering of Christians and other religious minorities who are forced to leave their homes, as their places of worship are destroyed."

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the pope's official envoy to Iraq, delivered the pope's message during his recent trip to that country. The two met at the Vatican on Thursday. The pope previously appealed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene to end the crisis.

Earlier this week, Francis revealed during a media conference with reporters that he was ready to travel to Iraq to try to find a solution to the ongoing violence.

The pope surprised many pundits when he endorsed military action to stop "unjust aggression" by Islamist militants and their attacks on religious minorities in Iraq.

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"In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor," Francis said. "I underscore the verb 'stop.' I'm not saying 'bomb' or 'make war,' just 'stop.' "

It was the clearest endorsement for using military force by a pope in at least 100 years.

Filoni, a former papal nuncio to Iraq and Jordan from 2001 to 2006, heads the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples at the Vatican. He has spent the past few days in Irbil supporting Christian refugees and also met Iraqi leaders in Baghdad.

On Wednesday, the Italian Parliament backed Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's move to send military aid to Iraqi Kurds fighting the fundamentalist Islamic State militia in the country's north.

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