The bishops of the Philippines have appealed their faithful to join in a national day of prayer in solidarity with persecuted Christians, especially those suffering in Iraq and Syria under the Islamic State. During a Sept. 2 meeting, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines unanimously set the upcoming Sept. 14 as a National Day of Prayer for Peace. The day of prayer coincides with the celebration of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. “We request the Most Reverend Archbishops and Bishops to oblige all priests to celebrate all Masses that day for the special intentions of the persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq,” said Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, who is also president of the Filipino bishops' conference. He exhorted all Church leaders and the faithful to mark the day with particular prayer intentions for the modern-day martyrs, and appealed for a special charity fund in supporting the persecuted victims in Iraq and Syria. “In all our Masses on the feast of the Holy Cross, let us unite ourselves with our suffering brothers and sisters, commending to the God who is our hope their pains, their shattered lives and dreams, their bereavement, and their loss.” “The Gospel of peace, love and brotherhood is under siege in many parts of the world, especially in Iraq and Syria”, noted Archbishop Villegas, who urged Filipinos to respond first and foremost through “prayer, accompanied by charity and solidarity.” Archbishop Villegas observed that “helpless and defenseless persons are victims of a brutal imposition of a rigid and unforgiving version of faith,” adding that “religion is as much a victim, for those who kill and slaughter, wound and maim, destroy and burn in the name of God, send the world the awful message that religion divides, that faith is oppressive, that belief can engender so much unkindness.” He appealed to the faithful to pray for the persecuted Christians who now “see no way out of the misery that has been visited on them, the God who opens paths through the sea and ways in the desert, may make a way for them to the future that can only be his gift.” “We must be generous, and the fact that we have our own needs here in the Philippines does not excuse us from the Christian obligation of sharing with our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria from our own need.” All donations received by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines by Sept. 30 will be sent immediately to the apostolic nunciatures to Iraq and Syria for distribution to those in need. The Islamic State, a Sunni Islamist group, emerged earlier this year as one of the rebel groups fighting in the Syrian civil war. This spring it spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country's north and west. It has now established a caliphate in the territory it controls across Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State has persecuted all non-Sunni persons in its territory: tens of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims have all fled the caliphate. During his July 2 Mass at the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis said that “the persecution of Christians today is even greater than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era.”