VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis, who has expressed alarm over the rise of Islamic State militants and the plight of Christians in the Middle East, has summoned his envoys in the region to a rare meeting to discuss a response to the crisis, the Vatican said on Tuesday.
The Oct 2 to 4 gathering will include Vatican ambassadors to Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Israel and the Palestinians as well as representatives to the United Nations and the European Union.
They will hold talks with more than a dozen top Vatican officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who addressed the United Nations on the Middle East crisis on Monday.
Earlier this month during a visit to predominantly Muslim Albania, Francis issued a strong criticism of Islamist militants, saying no religious group which used violence and oppression could claim to be "the armour of God".
Islamic State has declared a "caliphate" in the territories it controls in Syria and Iraq and has killed or driven out large numbers of Christians, Shi'ite Muslims and others who do not subscribe to its hardline version of Sunni Islam.
Asked about Islamic State last month when returning from a trip to South Korea, Francis endorsed action by the international community to stop "unjust aggression".
Parolin, the Vatican's top diplomat, told the the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday that it was "both licit and urgent to stop aggression through multilateral action and a proportionate use of force".
Islamic State is battling Shi'ite-backed governments in both Iraq and Syria, as well as other Sunni groups in Syria and Kurdish groups in both countries, part of complex, multi-sided civil wars in which nearly every country in the Middle East has a stake.