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Red lights shine for modern martyrs

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St Mary’s Cathedral was lit in red for Aid to the Church in Need’s Red Wednesday on 23 November. The lights were turned on by Cathedral Dean Fr Don Richardson, inset. Photos: ALPHONSUS FOK
St Mary’s Cathedral was lit in red for Aid to the Church in Need’s Red Wednesday on 23 November. The lights were turned on by Cathedral Dean Fr Don Richardson, inset. Photos: ALPHONSUS FOK

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” wrote Tertullian in the second century. Nearly two millennia later Australia has remembered the martyrs of the modern day by hosting Aid to the Church in Need’s Night of the Witnesses service at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Canberra.

The Night of the Witnesses is an international event that began at Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur Cathedrals in Paris, France, and was commemorated in Australia for the first time this year on Red Wednesday, 23 November. 

Presided over by Archbishop Christopher Prowse, Night of the Witnesses heard from guest speakers Regina Lynch, Projects Director of Aid to the Church in Need International, Archbishop Emeritus of Karachi, Pakistan, Cardinal Joseph Coutts, and Chaldean Archbishop Amel Nona of the Eparchy of St Thomas of Australia and New Zealand. 

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Archbishop Nona, who before his arrival in Australia was Roman Catholic Archbishop of Mosul in Northern Iraq, was joined by Bishop Georges Casmoussa, the former Syriac Catholic Archbishop of that same city. 

Both bishops understand the meaning of Christian persecution: Archbishop Nona was forced out of Mosul as a refugee under threat of murder, while Bishop Casmoussa was kidnapped at gunpoint in Mosul in 2005 at age 66. 

Bishop Casmoussa carried the Qaraqosh Cross during the procession of Night of the Witnesses. The cross was salvaged from a bombed-out church in Iraq and has become a relic signifying the martyrdom of Christians worldwide.

The attendees prayed for the souls of contemporary martyrs from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia, including 20 Catholics murdered in a 2019 bombing at Jolo Island in the Philippines.

The attack on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mt Carmel was claimed by Islamic State radicals, who said the “two knights of martyrdom” had struck against “a crusader temple”.

Night of the Witnesses took place on 23 November as part of Aid to the Church in Need’s Red Wednesday initiative, when cathedrals around the world are bathed in red light to draw attention to religious persecution.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Australia’s mother Church, was once again lit blood-red as a sign that the persecution of Christians is not just a matter of the historical record. “We may be tempted in this country to think the Church gets a hard time, Christian values are under attack, being eroded, society seems to be moving away from Christian teachings. And that’s true, but that is, if you like, a soft persecution,” Fr Don Richardson, Dean of St Mary’s, said in his homily at Sydney’s Red Wednesday Mass.

“What we should be very aware of is the situation of our brothers and sisters who suffer from hard persecution – where standing up for your faith in Christ or simply going about your life as a Christian doesn’t just put your reputation at stake but puts your life at stake.”

The Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Charles Balvo, also offered his support for Red Wednesday, saying he observed the good work of Aid to the Church in Need during his time as Nuncio in the Czech Republic, Kenya and South Sudan.

“Personally, I’m very grateful to ACN for all of its assistance that was provided while I was the apostolic nuncio in those countries,” Archbishop Balvo said.

“I join this initiative to defend those who live their faith.”

ACN also launched its latest report on religious violence, Persecuted and Forgotten, which shows that in some countries anti-Christian persecution has become so extreme as to constitute genocide.

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