WASHINGTON (CNS) — Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference invited people to pray for “those facing the stark reality of religious persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

In a statement, the bishops’ Administrative Committee also called on people to work to protect those who are marginalized and persecuted.

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The committee urged Catholics to use Lent to “unite with our suffering brothers and sisters and pray for them and with them in a special way.”

“In union with the local churches and Holy See, we call upon our nation to work with the international community to intervene and protect the rights of religious minorities and civilians within the framework of international and humanitarian law; address political and economic exclusion that are exploited by extremists; and increase humanitarian and development assistance,” said the statement, dated March 10.