Standing up for persecuted ChristiansThursday, May 24th, 2012
The plight of Christians persecuted for their faith was the focus of prayer, song and reflection at the first-ever Night of Witness held at Westminster Cathedral in London.
Bishops from the Britain and overseas led the event on May 18, at which Christians from countries marked by persecution played central roles in raising awareness of ongoing acts of religious oppression. Organised by Aid to the Church in Need, the Night of Witness began with more than 1,000 people filling Westminster Cathedral for a Mass highlighting the importance of religious freedom.
People leaving the service gathered on the cathedral piazza for an outdoor rally that began with Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster welcoming special guests Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, and Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt. Among other senior clergy attending the event were Emeritus Archbishop Kevin McDonald of Southwark, Mgr Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, Head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the UK and Emeritus Anglican Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali.
During the rally, Dr Nazir-Ali gave a speech stressing the importance of religious freedom, comparing and contrasting problems in Britain with those in Egypt, Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere.
He said, “We are approaching a time in this country where we will have to struggle for fundamental freedoms for Christians to manifest our beliefs and maintain our Christian institutions. We will face this; we are already facing this; in this country and so the example of our brothers and sisters from elsewhere will, I hope, sustain us.”
With Catholic performance poet Sarah de Nordwall acting as MC, the outdoor event included performances by the West End Gospel Choir, Catholic pop group ooberfuse, singers Helen Munt and Hammad Baily and the Eliot Smith Dance Company. The Eliot Smith Dance Company performed new work Persecuted and Forgotten.
Interspersed with the acts was a series of short videos about the persecuted Church produced by Aid to the Church in Need especially for the event.
The videos explored themes of persecution and its causes developed in Aid to the Church in Need ’s latest publication Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom which was launched at the event, complete with an introduction by leading British media expert Dr Austen Ivereigh, co-founder of Catholic Voices.
The rally ended with a procession back into the Cathedral, fronted by a vast wooden cross with Pakistani Christians from Nelson in Lancashire and Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association.
Fr Martin Edwards, national ecclesiastical assistant, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) led a Vigil of Light, involving the Mysteries of Light from the Rosary in a bespoke service coordinated by Christian communications expert Primavera Quantrill.
Catholics with close links to countries where Christians are persecuted read accounts of the deaths of modern-day martyrs in Egypt, Iraq (Fr Ragheed Ghani), Pakistan (Shahbaz Bhatti), India (Fr Bernard Digal) and Nigeria (four-year-old Emmanuel Dilke, killed on Christmas Day).
Images of the martyrs were placed on easels with a candle lit in front of each one.
At the close of the service, Aid to the Church in Need's UK director, Neville Kyrke-Smith, said: “As Fr Werenfried van Straaten, ACN’s founder, said, “we are called to dry the tears of the abandoned Jesus on the crosses of this century.”
by Gerard Bennett (source: ICN)