“OUR AIM is to break through the indifference, above all that of the international community, and to strive to ensure that after February 24th no one can continue to ignore the persecution of Christians.” Thus spoke Alessandro Monteduro, the director of our Italian office. Martyrdom is not a thing of the past.
At a press conference in Rome, Feb. 7, 2018, Mr. Monteduro announced that Rome’s famous Colosseum—an ancient symbol of Christian martyrdom—will be lit up in red at 6PM Rome time; right at the same time, the Maronite cathedral of Saint Elias in Aleppo, Syria and the Church of Saint Paul in Mosul, Iraq will follow suit.
Present at the press briefing were Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Franciscan Father Firas Lutfi, who serves as a parish priest at the Church of Saint Francis in Aleppo and is superior of the city’s Franciscan community at Terra Sancta College. Patriarch Sako said: “Turning on the red light will bring hope to these people who suffered a lot. The Church in Iraq gives thanks to the Western Churches and the charities that made a miracle in Iraq.”
“So many Christian communities around the world are suffering hunger, poverty and violence on account of their faith,” said Alfredo Mantovano, the president of our Italian office. He continued: “On several occasions already we have illuminated some of the most important monuments in the world in red in order to draw attention to the martyrdom of our Christian brothers and sisters. On this occasion, our intention is to also involve these communities directly, with the help of two of them that have suffered among the most in recent years, namely those in Syria and Iraq.”
Last year some major monuments and Church buildings were lit up in red: the Trevi Fountain in Rome, the Palace of Westminster in London, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris, and Manila Cathedral; the red light symbolizes the blood still shed today by so many Christians around the world.
The evening of February 24th at the Colosseum will see the participation of a host of dignitaries, including: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the international president of our organization; the secretary general of the Italian episcopal conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino; and the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.
The event will also feature extraordinary testimonies of persecution. Speaking will be Ashiq Masih and Eisham Ashiq, respectively the husband and one of the daughters of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Catholic woman who was sentenced to death in 2009 on a trumped-up charge of blasphemy, and who still remains in prison today. Their testimony will be followed by the dramatic personal account of Rebecca Bitrus, the Nigerian woman who was captured and held hostage for two years by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. She finally managed to escape, still bearing the child of one of her abductors.