The Knights of Columbus announced on Tuesday that it would launch a new phase in its efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
To date, the fraternal organisation has donated more than $3 million in humanitarian aid to assist them and will launch a national television ad campaign to draw more attention to their plight.
The theme for the convention, which took place in Philadelphia between Tuesday and Thursday, was “Endowed by Their Creator with Life and Liberty”, paraphrasing the famous words written by Thomas Jefferson in the same city 239 years ago.
The Knights said the television advert was to begin airing this weekend.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said: “A terrible microcosm of this phenomenon [of persecution] is occurring in Iraq and Syria, where Christians have been murdered and enslaved in astonishing numbers.”
Melkite Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria and Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil, Iraq joined him at the press conference.
“We have seen people killed, slaughtered, a woman violated, priests and bishops kidnapped,” said the Syrian archbishop.
The Knights began the Christian Refugee Relief Fund in August 2014 with $1 million in matching funds, which was quickly met and exceeded by its members and the public.
The humanitarian assistance provided has included new housing for those who have had to flee their homes, as well as support for medical facilities in areas flooded with Christian and other refugees.
In an earlier statement about the relief effort Supreme Knight Anderson said: “Christians in the Middle East are facing a dire situation and even extinction, while the response from the international community has woefully inadequate.
“Pope Francis has urged the international community to take action to help Christians in the Middle East, as an organisation that has long supported victims of religious persecution, the Knights of Columbus is responding by asking our own members, and the public at large, to help us save the lives of people who are being persecuted simply because of their Christian faith.”