A Time of Reflection in Solidarity with the Persecuted Church
Montreal, Monday, November 23, 2020—Close to a hundred people signed up for the virtual Red Wednesday event in Canada, which took place on November 18. Along with the Archbishops of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto—Msgrs. Christian Lépine, Michael J. Miller et le Cardinal Thomas Collins – three guest speakers from Nigeria, Lebanon and Pakistan testified to the persecution and discrimination experienced by the Christians in their respective countries.
“We belong to the poorest classes,” Father James Channan, a Pakistani Dominican reminded us, who is also the Director of the Peace Centre in Lahore. “Our second problem is that very often we are faced with discrimination from the authorities and wherever we are working.”
He also recalled the issue of young Christian teenage girls who are abducted, sexually abused, married and forcibly converted to Islam, in addition—in some cases—to being used for prostitution. A situation that the Pakistani Catholic Bishops denounced in a Press Release on November 6. Finally, Father Channan spoke of the blasphemy law, a veritable sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of Christians. “This fear of being accused of blasphemy is still present among Christians, of being very easily and falsely accused of blasphemy,” even when these cases are submitted to the Supreme Court and the innocence of the people are proven, the case of Asia Bibi being the most famous of them.
For his part, the Archbishop of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, recalled that the situation has not really changed since his tour of Canada in June 2018.
“[During this trip] I spoke about ‘Hope Amidst Violence and Persecution. What I shared with you about my country Nigeria has not changed that much, as we continue to move from one crisis to another.’’
He recalled that several of the young high school girls abducted by Boko Haram, an event that made international headlines in 2014, have still not returned home, and several have been forcibly converted to Islam, except for one of them: Leah Sharibu, because she refuses to convert to Islam. For many, she has become an example of courage in the face of adversity. In addition, Bishop Kaigama returned to the conflicts between Fulani shepherds and Christian farmers, which continue to grow.
‘‘Militant herdsmen have continuously wreaked havoc, killing people and burning houses and farms at odd hours of the night especially in Southern Kaduna, with a predominantly Christian population; the bandits have been terrorizing both Christians and non-Christians alike, and kidnappers are still a menace.’’
The Brain Drain: A Form of Persecution
Sister Micheline Lattouf is a member of the community of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd in Lebanon. In her testimony, she spoke about the brain drain from her country.
‘This latest crisis is accelerating the brain drain—the exodus of competent people. This is another form of persecution. To top it all off, the explosion of August 4th plunged Lebanon into the deepest of its current crises. The Christian community was the main victim in terms of human and economic losses.’
Quite conscious of the issues that affect Christian communities in the Middle East, such as discrimination, persecution, exile—it nonetheless calls for dialogue by posing the question to the Faith community: ‘What is the reason for our presence in this part of the world? Is our presence just a political or demographic colour, or do we have a mission? What value does our presence contribute?’
She recalled that, in a letter addressed to the Lebanese Catholic Bishops in 1989, Saint John Paul II wrote: ‘Lebanon is more than a country: it is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for the East as well as for the West!”
A fundamental question for Sister Micheline: “Are we aware and convinced of the current urgency of the mission of conviviality and respect for difference, tolerance and reconciliation to which we are called and to which it is essential to bear witness? As Christians of the Middle East, this is our message to the world and it is our responsibility, despite all the various facets of persecution.”
November 25: Christ the Redeemer in Rio lit up in red
November 18 marked the beginning of Red Week, an international week to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians around the world and issues of religious freedom. In addition to the illumination of public buildings, including the cathedrals of Montreal and Toronto in Canada and St. Charles Church in the heart of historic Vienna in Austria, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will be illuminated in red on November 25.
There will also be the publication of a report produced by the British office of ACN about Christians around the world who are imprisoned because of their Faith. The release of Set Your Captives Free will also take place on Wednesday, November 25 in Canada, with a downloadable PDF version. The Francophone version will follow in a few weeks. For more information on the persecution of Christians and religious freedom, www.acn-canada.org. In the meantime, a replay of the video event is available for viewing on the ACN Canada website: acn-canada.org.