In an official statement issued on July 21, the World Council of Churches' (WCC) general secretary, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, expressed deep concern over the exodus of the Christian community from the Iraqi city of Mosul due to threats from the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Tveit called these developments a “tragedy” for both Christians and Muslims.

According to local reports Christians have been told by those in control of Mosul to either convert to Islam, pay the Jizya (poll tax for non-Muslims) or leave the city. On failing to take these steps Christians are faced with threats of execution.

Due to this situation, the Shia community in Mosul is also feeling compelled to depart. Currently a number of Christians have taken refuge in neighboring monasteries and villages, as well as in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

“It is with great sorrow that we see the apparent ending of a Christian presence in Mosul, present there since the earliest centuries of Christianity,” Tveit said.

Tveit invoked prayers “for all the people of Iraq at this time, and in particular those from minority communities, both Christian and Muslim, who have been forced to leave their homes.”

In the statement, Tveit also mentioned an appeal from Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch of Baghdad, who called the current developments in Iraq “disturbing” and “tragic.”

Tveit reiterated the stance of the WCC Central Committee in a statement earlier this month urging “initiation of an inclusive political process to strengthen fundamental human rights, in particular with regards to religious freedom, to urgently establish the rule of law and to ensure equal rights for all citizens.”

The Central Committee statement assures the ecumenical community’s support for the churches in Iraq, appreciating their commitment to “engage in constructive dialogue with other religious and ethnic communities so that the pluralistic heritage of their societies is protected and secured.”