Pope Francis praying for suffering Iraqi Christians in danger of being wiped out

Pope Francis speaks from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.AP

Pope Francis discussed the persecution of Iraqi Christians at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) during his weekly Angelus prayer and address on Sunday.

Francis said that hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis are suffering terribly, and that he is praying for them.

"Our brothers are being persecuted, chased away, they are forced to leave their homes without being able to take anything with them," he said from a balcony over St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.

"I assure these families that I am close to them and in constant prayer," he continued. "I know how much you are suffering; I know you are being stripped of everything."

The pope decried the elimination of Christians from Iraq and Syria, where they have lived "side by side with their fellow citizens since the beginning of Christianity, and offered a significant contribution to social good."

There have been Christians in Iraq for over 2,000 years, and there were as many as 1.5 million Iraqi Christians before the United States invaded the country in 2003. Current estimates are 200,000 Christians living in the country but that number is dropping as thousands flee the wanton violence.

ISIS, founded in 2004, has increased in power substantially since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in December 2011. The jihadists control the Iraqi cities of Mosul, Baiji, and Fallujah, as well as parts of Syria, and seek to establish a Sunni Muslim reign across Iraq and Syria.

The extremists have persecuted, raped and killed Christians and Shiite Muslims across the Middle East. Churches and Shiite shrines have been bombed, and homes and historically significant sites destroyed.

The Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Raphael Sako of Baghdad, said that if something is not done soon, Iraq's Christians will be wiped out.

"The next days will be very bad. If the situation does not change, Christians will be left with just a symbolic presence in Iraq," he said during a convention two weeks ago. "If they leave, their history is finished."