By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - Montana's Roman Catholic bishops called on Tuesday for residents of the state to welcome Syrian refugees and warned against a culture of indifference which they said risks dehumanizing people fleeing conflict.
Urging Montanans to consider the plight of refugee families from Syria "with an open heart," the bishops also referenced pleas by Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help the needy and victims of persecution.
State residents are "part of a global family and are obligated to help our innocent brothers and sisters as they desperately flee the brutality and oppression that threatens their very lives," the bishops said in a statement.
The open letter came after dozens of Republican state lawmakers wrote to Democratic Governor Steve Bullock urging him to bar Syrian refugees from entering Montana should any be proposed for resettlement there.
Bullock was among a few governors who said their states' borders would stay open to refugees following attacks in Paris on November 13 in which 130 people were killed. The group Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the violence.
Since then, more than 30 U.S. states, mostly led by Republicans, have said they would bar Syrian refugees over concerns that they could have ties to extremists.
Advocates for the refugees have said the governors do not have the legal authority to turn them away, and U.S. President Barack Obama's administration has said it planned to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the coming year.
Tuesday's letter, signed by both of Montana's bishops, the Most Reverends George Leo Thomas of the Diocese of Helena and Michael W. Warfel of Great Falls-Billings, urged residents to learn about the rigorous screening process for refugees.
"We also implore all persons of faith to pray that our lawmakers be filled with wisdom and prudence as they deliberate and seek a course that upholds the dignity of every human person and advances the common good," they said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Toni Reinhold)