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Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Washington at World Youth Day in Poland started a social media campaign to show their solidarity with Iraqi Christians and others who suffer persecution.

The campaign, which launched on July 25, uses the hashtag #WYDvoices4peace.

"With news of Iraqi Christians attending (World Youth Day), and Cardinal (Donald) Wuerl's call to speak against the persecution in the Middle East, we will launch a social media campaign aimed at thanking the Iraqi young people for their witness and ensuring them we are raising our voices in prayerful support and praying for peace," said Sarah Yaklic, archdiocesan director of digital media.

She made the comments in an email from Krakow, Poland, where she was attending World Youth Day.

Washington's Cardinal Wuerl has been a persistent voice in drawing attention to the plight of Christians suffering in Iraq, the Holy Land and other countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He has frequently called on national and world leaders and all people of faith, not to remain silent or indifferent to the suffering of Iraq's persecuted Christians.

At a Mass for peace, religious freedom and tolerance celebrated a couple of years ago at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Cardinal Wuerl lamented that "every day we learn more about the atrocities perpetrated against Christians and others in Iraq and in other parts of the Middle East."

"It is almost incomprehensible that today, in organized military action, Muslim extremists are torturing and killing innocent and unarmed Christian women and children, attempting to force conversions to Islam and inflicting every type of inhumanity on fellow human beings," Cardinal Wuerl said at that event.

Yaklic said that World Youth Day pilgrims, using the hashtag #WYDvoices4peace, can "pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters" and encourage others to do so as well.

The social media campaign was launched the same day that World Youth Day pilgrims visited the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz where approximately 1 million people—mostly Jews—were killed during World War II. The camp is where Edith Stein and Father Maximilian Kolbe were martyred. Both were later canonized. Stein is known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

The World Youth Day campaign for peace and solidarity came one day before 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel was beheaded in a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, by two assailants who slit his throat after bursting into a church and taking nuns and Massgoers hostage. Several news outlets reported that Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the attack.

Cardinal Wuerl, writing in his blog on July 25 about the #WYDvoices4peace social media campaign, said the effort was an opportunity to show "solidarity with our sisters and brothers from that land where the church is suffering deadly persecution, and with all others who live in violence."

Writing of the pilgrims' visit to Auschwitz, Cardinal Wuerl said: "Of the questions voiced after the Nazi genocide, which should strike at the conscience of us all, is why there was such a silence in the world about the atrocities that were occurring. Sadly, subsequent violence, persecution and genocide since then have also often been met with silence or the effective silence of not doing anything to foster peace and security."

"We hear so much today of the word 'solidarity.' Solidarity is a particularly fitting word given the history of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement in Poland, which Pope John Paul II recognized as a force for the authentic peace of human rights and freedom," Cardinal Wuerl wrote. "Solidarity takes on added poignancy and urgency with our sisters and brothers from Iraq joining their fellow young people in prayer at World Youth Day."

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Washington who visited Auschwitz July 25 recorded videos and wrote messages that were posted online and shared via Twitter, Instagram and other online social media sites using the hashtag #WYDvoices4peace.

"Today our solidarity with people of faith in places where there is clearly an effort to eliminate them is something that we simply cannot in conscience ignore," Cardinal Wuerl wrote in his blog. "We need to raise our voices for peace. Please join our pilgrims in prayer and send a message using #WYDvoices4peace."

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