Knights raise money for Christians at risk

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The Edward Douglass White Council of the Knights of Columbus are selling olivewood "solidarity crosses" made by Christian families in Bethlehem to raise money for the organization's Christian Refugee Relief Fund. The fund provides aid to victims of religious persecution, specifically in the Middle East. The crosses are being sold for $10 each with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the archdioceses of Aleppo and Irbil, as well as to Catholic Charities working in the region.

EDW Grand Knight John White said the fundraising idea came from the Supreme Order. The crosses cost the council $5 a piece to purchase from families in Bethlehem, but rather than keeping the other $5 to recoup the cost, the council decided to give the entire $10 made from each cross to the relief fund.

According to White, there are 19 councils and assemblies in Virginia participating in the Solidarity Cross program, with an estimated 1,499 crosses sold thus far. In addition to the Edward Douglass White Council, the other participating councils in the Arlington Diocese are: Springfield Council, Springfield; John Paul I Council, Dale City; Fr. Widmer Council, Stafford; and St. Mary of Sorrows Council, Fairfax Station.

White said they have already sold 420 crosses, and the very first one was purchased by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde with a personal check.

The next 119 were sold at a state meeting of the Knights of Columbus, he said. "It was a great effort on the part of the Knights throughout the state to kick this off, and then we brought it home here to Arlington."

The council has sold the crosses at St. Agnes in Arlington, St. James in Falls Church, and will sell them at St. Ann in Arlington July 3, which will be the last day of the fundraiser.

When White announced the effort during an early morning Mass at his parish, St. Agnes, he said they sold out of crosses after the second Mass that day. "But people were still giving us money," White said. "We raised over $6,000 from St. Agnes alone, which is incredible. And we raised more money when we ran out of crosses than when we had them."

He said more than 400 people have contributed to the fundraiser thus far through purchasing the crosses and through direct donations. The council is just shy of raising $10,000.

The Christian Refugee Relief Fund was created to help support those suffering religious persecution in Iraq and Syria. Since launching the fund in August 2014, the Knights have raised more than $10 million. All of the donations go toward humanitarian assistance and efforts to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.

In areas occupied by the Islamic State group, Christians are forced to pay the jizya - a head tax levied against them because of their faith - or pressured to convert to Islam. If they refuse to adhere to these conditions, they face violence, loss of wealth and property, or death. A 2014 study conducted by the Pew Research Center reported that more Christians face "harassment or intimidation" than any religious group.

"I have a young daughter, she's 9 years old, and I can only imagine the stuff she'd have to go through if she was over in Syria or Iraq right now. It's unfathomable," White said. "It's hard for us to see other people suffer when they don't need to be."

The fundraising campaign will end July 3 at St. Ann with a speech by Chris Bannon, the council's grand knight-elect. Those interested in donating to the fund can follow the link posted on the Knights of Columbus Edward Douglass White Council 2473 Facebook page.

Husar can be reached at mhusar@catholicherald.com.

Find out more

To learn more about the Christian Refugee Relief Fund, go to christiansatrisk.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016