VATICAN CITY—Thursday morning, Pope Francis received in audience a delegation from the World Community of Yezidis. The group was led by the Head of all the Yezidis, Mir Tahsin Said Ali Beg, and their supreme spiritual leader, the ‘Baba Sheikh’, Sheikh Khato, both residents in Iraqi Kurdistan. The group also comprised three representatives of the Yezidis of northern Iraq, Georgia and the diaspora in Germany.
During the meeting, which lasted approximately half an hour and took place in the private library of the Apostolic Palace, the delegation thanked the Pope – indicated by one of the delegates as the “father of the poor” –for his support for the Yezidis in this time of persecution and suffering. They informed the Pope of the situation of around 5,000 Yezidi women reduced to slavery by ISIS, and emphasized the good relations between Yezidis and Christians, stressing their mutual solidarity.
Pope Francis assured the delegates of his spiritual closeness and his support in these challenging times, and expressed his hope that soon it will be possible to restore justice and the conditions for a free and peaceful life for the Yezidis, as well as all other minority groups who are the object of discrimination and violence.
There are around one and a half million Yezidis throughout the world, of whom half a million are in Iraq; there are others in Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and in many other countries.
Yezidis are a Kurdish-speaking people who follow an ancient religion blending elements of Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity and local folk beliefs.
At their unique conical temples, Yezidis worship a peacock deity called Melek Taus and hold elaborate ceremonies that involve fire and water.
The pope has spoken out several times in support of thousands of Yezidi people who, like their Christian neighbors, have been forced to flee their homes due to the wave of Islamist violence sweeping through Iraq and Syria.
Last month, the pope delivered a video message in support of tens of thousands of minority Yezidi and Christian refugees who fled Islamic State militants in August, many of them trapped on a mountain before they escaped to the Iraqi city of Irbil.
“Christians and Yezidis have been forced out of their homes, they have had to abandon everything to save their lives, but they have not denied their faith,” Francis said at the time. “As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations of the human dignity.”