Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis on Sunday said Iraqi Christians were being "persecuted" and "stripped of everything" as hundreds of Christian families fled Mosul after a jihadist ultimatum.
"Our brothers are being persecuted, chased away, they are forced to leave their homes without being able to take anything with them," Francis said during his weekly Angelus prayer from a balcony overlooking St Peter's Square.
"I assure these families that I am close to them and in constant prayer," he said, adding: "I know how much you are suffering, I know you are being stripped of everything."
Francis said the community had lived "side by side with their fellow citizens since the beginning of Christianity and offered a significant contribution to social good".
The jihadists, who have run the city since a sweeping military offensive that began six weeks ago, have told the thousands of Christians in Mosul they can convert to Islam, pay a special tax or leave.
An earlier statement by Mosul's new rulers had said there would be "nothing for them but the sword" if Christians did not abide by those conditions by 0900 GMT on July 19.
The mass displacement was the latest in weeks of turmoil which has forced more than 600,000 people from their homes, left thousands dead and brought Iraq to the brink of collapse.