By Mark Abrams

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Responding to the call of Pope Francis, the Knights of Columbus meeting in Philadelphia is ramping up fundraising efforts to help persecuted minorities in the Middle East.

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The Knights of Columbus opened its annual international convention Tuesday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

It started with a major announcement that the organization will coordinate efforts to raise money to help thousands of Christians who have suffered losses because of wars raging in Syria and Iraq.

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“We have seen people killed, slaughtered,” says Syrian Archbishop Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria. “Women violated. Priests and bishops kidnapped. Churches and convents invaded.”

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson says the need is dire.

“Food and education are sorely needed,” he says. “More housing, more medical care, more of everything actually is needed by people who have literally nothing.”

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Anderson says the Knights created ChristiansAtRisk.org a site where donations will be received.