By Michael J Robinson
THE NECESSITY for UK Christians and non-Christians alike to stand in solidarity with persecuted and oppressed Christians throughout the world was emphasised at events in Motherwell (near Glasgow) and London, organised by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Each of the events – the first in Motherwell Cathedral (Thursday 9e October) and the other two days later in Westminster – attracted 250 people.
The events began with Mass and were followed by talks in the Cathedral Hall. The Mass at Our Lady of Good Aid Cathedral, Motherwell, included participation of nine schools. The choir was provided by Our Lady’s High School and the violin soloist was Stephanie Reid. There was a procession of school children carrying posters with images from around the world, representing the theme of ‘Extremism, Hope and Faith’.
The keynote speaker at both ACN events was Maronite Archbishop Elias Nassar, of Saida, Lebanon. He said: “It has become convenient for Europe to ignore and forget about Christian Persecution in my region.”
Archbishop Nassar provided first-hand experience of life in Lebanon, whose population has swelled following the vast number of refugees arriving from war-torn Iraq and Syria, including two million from Syria alone. The Archbishop highlighted how the increase in refugees has put the education system in Lebanon under great strain.
The Archbishop also requested the audience and society at large to preserve the Christian Faith in the Middle East in order for the Church to continue to build bridges between different peoples and cultures and to establish peace, love and justice.
Also addressing the Westminster event was ACN’s International Projects Director, Regina Lynch. She said: “We all have a duty to provide a voice and face for persecuted Christians around the world.”
Ms Lynch echoed the call for the world to remember Christians who are persecuted and to pray for their persecutors.
John Pontifex, Aid to the Church in Need (UK)’s Head of Press and Information, who had only days before returned from northern Iraq, told the Westminster audience about the reality for Christians in Iraq. He shared many first hand testimonies of life for people who have escaped the Islamic State (IS).
One such story involved a six-year-old deaf boy who was fleeing his home town and was stopped by IS. Before he could flee the town, IS demanded he hand over his hearing aid. When asked why, IS claimed they needed the battery.
Mr Pontifex said that Aid to the Church in Need has prioritised action for suffering Christians in northern Iraq. He said: “For displaced communities to survive the harsh winter which will start to descend on Kurdistan, within a matter of weeks, time is very much of the essence.”
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop Borys Gudziak spoke about a “pilgrimage from fear to freedom” for his faithful in Ukraine.
Reflecting on the many decades of ACN support for the Church in Ukraine Bishop Gudziak highlighted the effect of fear on the community, saying it is like “radiation which is unable to be seen or smelt, but is very real.”
Bishop Gudziak asked for people attending the event to return to their homes and parishes to share what they have heard and stand together with persecuted Christians who are often forgotten.
Aid to the Church in Need (UK)’s National Director Neville Kyrke-Smith thanked all those who support the persecuted Church. He said: “We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our benefactors and appreciate all that you have done and continue to do.”
Ms Lynch concluded with a question: “Can you suffer with someone? That’s what ACN does. We suffer with those who are suffering.”