Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral was bathed in red last night, symbolising the blood of the martyrs, as leaders from 15 different faith communities stood together against religious persecution around the world.
The very first Red Wednesday in Australia saw members of the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and Baha’i communities combine to promote religious freedom and bring about an end to oppression. The interfaith gathering included powerful testimonies of persecution by individuals from Yemen and Syria.
Iconic buildings in Sydney and around the world were lit up to draw attention to the plight of those persecuted for their religious faith.
In Sydney, The Great Synagogue, St James’ Church, St John’s College at Sydney University, and Notre Dame University all were bathed in red.
The Colosseum and Trevi Fountain were lit-up in Rome, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey in London, the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro. In Paris, the Russian Orthodoxe Cathedral “Holy Trinity” and the Great Mosque were lit up, and in Venice, the Rialto Bridge.
“These light-ups around the world remind us of the basic human right of freedom,” said Terry Tobin, President of Aid to the Church in Need in Australia. ACN organised the global event to support the persecuted of all faiths.
“The most significant part of Red Wednesday is not the lights,” Mr Tobin continued, “It is the gathering. It is the statement of the underlying values of our society, that regardless of our particular religious beliefs, we can join with all peoples of faith, to proclaim the essential role of religion in the political and civic life of our country.”
Mr Tobin said Notre Dame University and the Australian Catholic University have begun planning programs for schools and universities to teach students about the importance of religious freedom.
A member of the Baha’i community spoke of the persecution of her sister in Yemen, who is facing execution because of her Baha’i faith. She said many members of the Baha’i faith disappear in Yemen and are never seen again. Currently she said there are 20 Baha’i members on death row in the country.
A Syrian Orthodox Christian also spoke of his family’s constant persecution in Syria, including the threat of death and kidnapping, because of their faith. He said they were too afraid to leave their house in the evening and his wife was forced to wear the Hijab. He said they were forced to leave because of the danger and frequent bombings.
“It is a great tribute to our country that people of 15 different faiths could gather in one place to share their common concern for faith and freedom,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said. “It’s a tribute to our country because in so many parts of the world this simply couldn’t happen.”
He referred to the plight of Christians in India which had been highlighted by a bishop from India at the recent Synod on Youth in Rome. Christian women were being raped because of their faith, he said, and one young man had been stoned to death for refusing to give up his Christianity.
“We gather to condemn the disfiguration of our human dignity that is religious persecution. We are choosing to hope for transfiguration that is respect for religious difference and freedom,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“Wherever humanity is suffering, wherever the body of Christ is being tortured and killed, it is us who are suffering, our family, our people, the whole body of Christ.”
“The choice to look on and do nothing, or look away and do nothing, is a choice to side with the oppressor. Tonight as our cathedral is bathed in the blood of martyrs, so are cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues, in Venice, Paris, Barcelona, London, Washington and Rome.”
“All around the world we stand with those oppressed for their faith. We stand tonight for the dignity of every human being.”