The Prince of Wales said the actions of those who deliberately destroy harmony between people of different faiths are “quite literally diabolical”.
The Prince was speaking at the Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Acton, west London, where he met Iraqi Christians who had lost relatives and homes at the hands of Islamic State jihadists.
He told a packed church: “The anguish of all this does not bear thinking about, and my heart goes out to you all.”
Killing in the name of faith was “nothing less than a sacrilege” because it desecrates the image of the Divine in a fellow human being, the Prince said. He noted that Muslims as well as Christians and Yazidis had suffered at the hands of “fanatics claiming to act in the name of Islam”, and said the murder of 142 people – 132 of them children – in Peshawar in Pakistan yesterday, “was a sickening example of such sacrilege”.
The Prince said he was praying for “the many, many families in Pakistan who have lost children, other relatives, friends and colleagues” and praying “most fervently” that peace would return to Iraq and that Christians would be free “together with those of other religions, to celebrate your faith without any fear of persecution”.
The congregation heard from Revd William Taylor, who had just returned from visiting Iraq with retired Bishop Geoffrey Rowell on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He said the relief work co-ordinated by the Churches was “inspirational”. Kurdistan is now home to 1.2m displaced people, including 120,000 Christians.
The Prince was presented with gifts including a charm bracelet for his grandson, Prince George. The congregation greeted him waving Union flags and applauded him as the “king of peace”.
Before the service the Prince spoke with church members who had lost relatives since the Islamic State seized Mosul and other areas in northern Iraq.
Vean Al-Saka, 35, told him how jihadists had shot and killed her newly wed brother Gassan, 28, when he went to get water, a month after IS had cut off water and electricity to their village of Bartella.
Engineering student Waseem Ozan, 24, said his family had fled their home in Mosul and having lost all their possessions were now sleeping in a church hall in the Kurdistan capital Erbil.
This was the Prince’s second visit to the cathedral, a year to the day after the first, which marked the first time he publicly expressed his concerns about the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians. A spokeswoman said the follow-up visit was part of his “ongoing relationship” with the 4,000-strong congregation, most of whom are Iraqis or Syrians.
In recent weeks he has also visited Armenian Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic congregations in west London.