NEW YORK — A new study has found that while a majority of U.S. Catholics are concerned about the global persecution of Christians, there has been a noticeable decline of concern in the past year.

The report was released on Monday by Aid to the Church in Need USA, an international papal charity which supports suffering Christians around the globe. The latest findings mark the third year in which the organization has commissioned the study, which was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates during February.

The latest findings reveal that while 59 percent of Catholics said they were “very concerned” about Christian persecution in 2019, only 52 percent of respondents expressed the same level of concern today.

According to the one thousand respondents, the overwhelming majority of whom self identified as either “somewhat” or “very” devout Catholics, 41 percent said that the that the persecution of Christians around the world is “severe,” while 50 percent consider it to be “somewhat severe.”

The survey also found that 42 percent of Catholics say that half or more of religiously-based attacks around the world are directed at Christians.

Also chronicled in this year’s survey is the fact that Christian persecution receives the lowest level of areas of global concern, ranking fourth behind human trafficking, poverty, climate change and the global refugee crisis.

In response to the latest data, Aid to the Church in Need president George Marlin said the decline was “disheartening” and he called on Christians to do more to raise awareness of what is happening to their fellow believers.

“While 52 percent of American Catholics show strong concern about the persecution of Christians, it is nevertheless disheartening to see the drop in their number compared to a year ago,” said Marlin in a statement. “It’s telling that US Catholics consider human trafficking, poverty, climate change, and the refugee crisis — as important as these issues are—to be more important than the persecution of Christians.”

“In light of the survey results, education at both the parish and diocesan level remains of crucial importance. It is clear that US Catholics believe that the Church in America can do much more when it comes to calling attention to the gravity of Christian persecution,” he continued. “In a world where up to 300 million Christians are confronted with various forms of harassment and outright persecution because of their faith, the US Church simply must do more to inform and galvanize the faithful.”

When asked about Pope Francis’ commitment to the issue, 47 percent of respondents said they believed him to to be “very engaged,” in comparison to only 27 percent who believe their local bishop to have the same level of engagement.

During a November 2019 visit to the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, Pope Francis lamented that there are many Catholics around the world who are still forced to worship in secret, paying tribute to the Christian martyrs from the second to fifth centuries that are buried there.

“It was an ugly moment in history, but it has not been overcome,” the pope said, adding that there are “many catacombs in other countries where people even have to pretend they are having a party or a birthday in order to celebrate the Eucharist because it is banned.”

“Still today Christians are persecuted — even more than in the first centuries,” he said during the visit, which marked his first time entering the Roman catacombs.

While Pope Francis has repeatedly called attention to the suffering of Christians, some observers have expressed the desire for the pope to take a harder, more vocal line on the issue, particularly when it comes to the survival of Christians in the Middle East.

RELATED: Explaining Pope’s soft touch on survival of Middle Eastern Christianity

According to a majority of those surveyed, most American Catholics believe both the United States and other countries in the west should “pursue certain policies to deter the persecution of Christians around the world.”

Among the initiatives in which respondents were polled, 61 percent rank economic sanctions and 55 percent rank diplomatic pressure on countries as “very important.” in combatting persecution. Another 52 percent of American Catholics favor emergency asylum and 48 percent choose financial aid to persecuted Christian communities as very important.

In addition, personal initiatives received high ranking, with 69 percent of U.S. Catholics saying that prayer was very important and 53 percent saying that personal donations were important — despite the fact that 51 percent said they have not made any such contributions.

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212 

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