CNA Staff, Mar 19, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Catholics in the US are showing more awareness of the problems of Christian persecution worldwide, the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need has said.

“It is heartening that, compared to a year ago, significantly more U.S. Catholics say that Christian persecution around the world is very grave and that the issue has become a matter of concern to more faithful. They also want both their Church and their government to step up efforts to do more to combat the issue,” George Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA said March 17.

57% of U.S. Catholics said they think Christian persecution is “very severe” globally, an increase from 41% last year. About 67% said they are “very concerned” about Christian persecution.

Close to 50% of U.S. Catholics said that half or more of religiously-based attacks in the world are directed at Christians. They identified China, North Korea, and Pakistan as countries where Christians face severe persecution.

Some 52% said Pope Francis is “very engaged” on Christian persecution issues, an increase from 47% last year. About 30% said they think their bishop is “very engaged” on this issue, and 28% say their parish is.

Aid to the Church in Need said there were still gaps in respondents’ awareness. Most respondents did not know that in Pakistan in 2020 some 2,000 mainly Christian girls were abducted and threatened with forcible conversion to Islam. They were unaware that in China Christians who go to Mass are digitally surveilled. Also not known was that in Nigeria last year about 3,500 Christians were killed for their faith. In North Korea, identifying as a Christian can be a capital offense.

Marlin said the poll shows “the great need to inform the public regarding specific instances of Christian persecution.”

He said the U.S, bishops and organizations like Aid to the Church in Need “must step up our educational and informational efforts.”

“It is my hope that leaders around the world embrace the fundamental human right of religious freedom, and promote a society that respects ethnic, cultural and especially religious diversity,” he added.

The survey came just days ahead of Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq, where the Christian population has dwindled through emigration after the chaos of the 2003 U.S. invasion, the rise and fall of the Islamic State, and other major problems.

Aid to the Church in Need-USA commissioned the survey by McLaughlin & Associates. The nationwide poll of 1,000 Catholic adults was conducted Feb. 19-26 and claims an accuracy of plus or minus 3.1%. It is the fourth annual survey on the topic.

The survey also inquired about the religious profile of respondents. It found that 48% self-describe as devout and 39% as somewhat devout. Another 38% said they attend Mass at least weekly, 17% attend monthly, 15% attend only on Christmas and Easter, while 30% never or rarely go. About 31% self-identified as liberal, 35% as moderate, and 34% as conservative.

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