A nationwide poll has found that American Catholics find several world issues, including climate change, even more pressing than Christian persecution.
The survey, which was conducted in January and released on Thursday by Aid to the Church in Need-USA and McLaughlin & Associates, asked 1,000 U.S. Catholic adults to state how severe they find several global issues.
The poll, which has an accuracy of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level, found that 49 percent of respondents are "very concerned" about Christian persecution.
The highest level of concern was reserved for the issue of human trafficking, at 72 percent, followed by poverty at 68, climate change at 55, and the refugee crisis at 51 percent.
In the survey, 40 percent of Catholics said Christian persecution around the world has reached a "very severe" level, while 51 percent said that it was "somewhat severe," and 10 percent suggested that it was "not severe."
When it comes to the countries where Christians face the most severe persecution, Catholics said that the top five are North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan.
Major persecution watchdog groups, such as Open Doors USA, have also ranked North Korea as the worst country for Christians for 16 consecutive years. The rest of Open Doors' top five on the World Watch List, released in January, included Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Pakistan.
George Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA, said in a statement that the survey reveals "quite clearly" that there is a need "to increase the engagement level of the U.S. Catholic Church when it comes to global Christian persecution — both at the grassroots and leadership levels. The issue has to become a priority."
"What we hope our poll will do is show the bishops and their priests that the laity need more education and leadership to give them a stronger sense of the seriousness and pervasiveness of Christian persecution around the world. We have an obligation to raise our voice and stand up for persecuted Christians," Marlin said.
The poll found that nearly half of U.S. Catholics believe Pope Francis is "very engaged" on the issue of Christian persecution. On the local level, only 27 percent said their local bishop is engaged and less than a quarter (24 percent) believe their parish is involved with the issue.
When asked about what the U.S. and other Western governments can do to fight Christian persecution, 59 percent of Catholics said that diplomatic pressure is "very important."
Economic sanctions was the second most popular solution they chose, at 55 percent, followed by offering emergency asylum (50 percent) and providing financial aid (47 percent). Military intervention and arming Christian communities were the least popular options, receiving only 40 percent strong support.
The survey respondents were also asked what they can do themselves to help persecuted Christians.
Prayer was ranked as the most popular option, with 64 percent saying that it is very important, followed by raising awareness at the parish level (56 percent), donating to agencies (53 percent), and lastly contacting members of Congress (49 percent).