Shine a light on religious persecution

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Mourners in Pittsburgh
People mourn during a candlelight vigil on 27 October for victims of the shooting that killed eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. PHOTO: CNS/John Altdorfer, Reuters

It’s the colour of blood and of martyrs, but is also the colour of hope—herald of a new dawn.

St Mary’s Cathedral will be lit up in red on the eve of 28 November to highlight the plight of those who endure persecution because of their religious beliefs, and unite all people of faith in prayer and action.

It is the first time Australia will take part in Red Wednesday, an initiative of Aid to the Church in Need, when all are encouraged to wear red and make a stand for faith and freedom.

All are invited to the Cathedral on 28 November for a 5.30pm Mass.

It will be followed by an interfaith gathering in the cathedral crypt led by the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP.

Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral will also turn red. The annual event has been growing in recent years but this is the first time Australian buildings will be floodlit to highlight the growing problem of religious persecution.

Public buildings in red to highlight persecution
Public buildings and landmarks around the world were illuminated in red last November to highlight global religious persecution. The annual event will be held on 28 November in 2018, with Sydney’s and Melbourne’s Catholic cathedrals taking part.

The 2018 Religious Freedom in the World Report will be released to coincide with the Red Wednesday event and it is feared that in the years since ACN began releasing its annual surveys on religious freedom that this may be the worst on record.

Produced every two years by Aid to the Church in Need the report gives a snapshot on issues affecting religious freedom for all faith groups in 196 countries.

Iraq and Syria are likely to be at or near the top of the list of the most dangerous places to be a Christian, but there are also horrific abuses of religious liberty for people of different religions happening today in 23 other countries or regions including India, Pakistan, China, Africa and South America.

The report can be viewed from 23 November at religious-freedom-report.org.

The president of ACN Australia Terence Tobin QC said that two years ago the Houses of Parliament along the Thames in London were lit up in red to celebrate religious freedom and express the commitment of the British Parliament to the right of all to practise their religions and express their religious beliefs in peace.

“This year’s interfaith gathering in St Mary’s crypt will be a powerful symbol calling for governments everywhere to respect that basic human right,” he said.

St Elian Church in Syria
Damage in the town of Qaryatain, Syria after it was recaptured by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The relics of Syrian St Elian, which originally were thought to have been destroyed by members of the so-called Islamic State militia, were found amid the rubble of the desecrated Mar Elian Church in Qaryatain in 2016. PHOTO: CNS/Syria’s national news agency handout via Reuters

National director Bernard Toutounji said he hopes the campaign will spread to other Australian dioceses next year.

“The aim of Red Wednesday has been to draw people’s attention to the circumstances of Christians and others who suffer for their faith, and this year it will highlight all those who suffer religious persecution whatever faith they might be,” he explained.

“We are encouraging people to use the hashtag #RedWednesday on social media and hopefully it begins a conversation about how some people really suffer for their faith.

“It can make people ask themselves, ‘What does my faith mean to me, how valuable is my faith and what would I give for it?’

“That’s a valuable question I think for all of us to ask ourselves.”

Fares Alabdullah, 18, came to Sydney from Syria two years ago with his parents Ali and Leila, and older brother Badee.

The Year 11 student at Holy Spirit College Lakemba was living in one of the few Christian neighbourhoods in Hama city when restrictions started there in 2011, and then the bombings.

He said his parents were afraid to allow their sons to go to church, especially for the major feasts of Easter and Christmas, but the family’s faith remained “very important” and they persisted, despite the danger.

“Thank God our church was never bombed, but others were,” said Fares.

“But I would like people here to know that before the war started it was different, there was no feuding [between people of different faiths].

“Personally I have many friends that are Muslim who live in Syria and I consider them to be my closest friends.”

The Red Wednesday campaign began in 2016 as an ACN-United Kingdom initiative. Lit in red were the Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, Houses of Parliament and Oxford University.

Also lit up were the Fontana de Trevi in Italy, Sacred Heart Basilica in France, and Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.

ACN was founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organisation for war refugees and was made a papal foundation in 2011. From its founding it has been a powerful voice in support of the persecuted and forgotten.

It is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or suffering material need.

For details on the Red Wednesday campaign and how to get involved: redwednesday.org