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Diocese to help Mideast victims

Bishop makes rare appeal for donations

Responding to what Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Wednesday called “the terrible suffering in the Middle East,” the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will conduct a special appeal for donations during this weekend’s Masses.

The money will go to Catholic Relief Services and other Catholic agencies already providing humanitarian aid to victims of violence in Iraq and Syria, including those displaced as armed forces of the extremist Islamic State swept across Iraq and Syria in recent weeks.

In an email interview with The Journal Gazette, Rhoades said collections are being taken in dioceses throughout the United States at the request of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville. Although participating in the appeal was up to individual bishops, “I decided right away to do so,” Rhoades wrote. “The suffering is so great and the needs are so many.”

Rhoades also used his column published in today’s edition of the diocese’s weekly newspaper, “Today’s Catholic,” to publicize the plight of those who have been singled out for persecution by the group because of their faith.

Christians and members of other religious minorities have been called on to “convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant ‘infidel tax’ or die. Many have been killed,” he wrote, while others have fled as refugees to neighboring countries including Jordan, which is struggling to absorb them.

In the column, Rhoades also referenced the beheading of American reporter James Foley, “a devout Catholic,” as more evidence of brutality. The group similarly executed a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, in recent days.

Asked for his own reaction to those events, Rhoades wrote in the email that he felt “disgust at the cruelty, and much sympathy for the victims and their families. They were courageous men. There is also ‘righteous anger’ at such evil.”

Rhoades said the donations would go for urgent aid and that some would likely reach Jordan, which has a sizable Catholic community, and other nations where people have fled. Some also would likely go to Gaza, “where people are also in great need of humanitarian help.”

Rhoades added that he had taken up only a handful of special collections since becoming the region’s bishop, including after the Haiti earthquake and the tsunami in the Philippines, which raised more than $1 million.

“I personally believe that the international community bears a responsibility to respond more strongly to the aggression of the Islamic State. The violence and terror against innocent people needs to be stopped,” Rhoades wrote.

“It is important that we stand in solidarity with these brothers and sisters in Christ through our prayers and financial support.”