WASHINGTON (CNS) — The archbishop who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked U.S. Catholics to sign a pledge calling for an end to the slaughter of Christians and members of other religious minority groups in the Middle East.

“Today, the people of God must speak up for our brothers and sisters facing genocide in the Middle East,” said a March 14 statement from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, USCCB president. “As a people of faith, we must convince the U.S. Department of State to include Christians in any formal declaration of genocide.”

The same day the House in a bipartisan 393-0 vote approved a nonbinding resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities being carried out by Islamic State militants against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria.

“The very future of the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East is at stake,” said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.

Secretary of State John Kerry must decide by mid-March whether to make a formal declaration of genocide. After the House vote, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said that as the Obama administration “waffles on this issue and doubles-down on its failed strategy” to defeat the Islamic State, “the American people are speaking loudly and clearly on this issue.”

“The very future of the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East is at stake,” Archbishop Kurtz said in his statement.

“With each passing day, the roll of modern martyrs grows. While we rejoice in their ultimate victory over death through the power of Jesus’ love, we must also help our fellow Christians carry the cross of persecution and, as much as possible, help relieve their suffering,” he added. By doing so, the Middle East and the world will be made safer for people of every faith to live in peace.”

Archbishop Kurtz urged Catholics to sign a petition at www.stopthechristiangenocide.org that has been online since late February. The effort is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians.

“Extensive and irrefutable evidence supports a finding that the so-called Islamic State’s mistreatment of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, as well as Yezidis and other vulnerable minorities, meets this definition,” the petition says.

State Department officials hinted last October that a genocide designation was coming for the Yezidi minority in the region, but not for Christians. The comments led to a firestorm of protest from Christian groups that resulted in congressional action setting the March 17 deadline for Kerry to respond.

In a statement released after the House vote, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson called the overwhelming support for the genocide resolution “historic and welcome. … It is a testament to the truth. The question remains: Will the State Department join the rest of the world in calling this what it is — genocide?”

Or, Anderson continued, “will it undermine the global and national consensus on this issue, signaling to terrorists that we don’t take their crimes as seriously as the rest of the world does?”

On March 10 in Washington, the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians issue a new 278-page report containing contains dozens of statements collected from Feb. 22 through March 3 from witnesses and victims of atrocities carried out by Islamic State forces. The incidents include torture, rapes, kidnappings, murder, forced conversions, bombings and the destruction of religious property and monuments.

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Following is the text of Archbishop Kurtz’s statement:

Today, the people of God must speak up for our brothers and sisters facing genocide in the Middle East. I urge every Catholic to sign the petition at www.stopthechristiangenocide.org. As a people of faith, we must convince the United States Department of State to include Christians in any formal declaration of genocide.

For months, the Catholic Church has been a voice for Christians and other religious minorities facing the evil of deadly persecution. Now, the State Department is expected to make a decision within days. A resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, is also gaining bipartisan support in Congress.

Please, make sure your name is added to the witness. The very future of the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East is at stake.

I am grateful to my brother bishops, the Knights of Columbus and all the faithful who have struggled to keep a focus on suffering Christians in the national debate. Rest assured of my continued prayers and support.

With each passing day, the roll of modern martyrs grows. While we rejoice in their ultimate victory over death through the power of Jesus’ love, we must also help our fellow Christians carry the Cross of persecution and, as much as possible, help relieve their suffering. By doing so, the Middle East and the world will be made safer for people of every faith to live in peace.