#RedWeek puts spotlight on Christian persecution

Participants in this year’s events heard testimonies from Nigerian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern bishops, as well as missionaries and victims of persecution.

Thousands of people around the world took part in #RedWeek 2023, from Croatia to Australia.

The Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) initiative was praised by all who participated and received special mentions from leading politicians like Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Sunak described it in Parliament as “an important moment to demonstrate our solidarity with Christians and all those persecuted around the world for their religion.” He added, “I’m pleased that we will light up Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office buildings in the U.K. in red in support.”

In Rome, Italy, several government buildings also joined the initiative, including the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and several embassies to the Holy See.

Other national governments also embraced #RedWeek, including those of countries that do not have ACN offices. The government of Hungary organized a conference on religious persecution, inviting Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of Makurdi, who described the suffering of more than two million internally displaced Christians in Nigeria. And the government of the Czech Republic began its chairmanship of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA) with a Red Wednesday event in Prague on November 29.

The Croatian Parliament hosted a conference focusing on the growing number of religious hate crimes in the West, including a presentation of ACN’s Religious Freedom Report (RFR) and the lighting of several government buildings and churches in red.

ACN’s national office in Portugal also used #RedWeek to further promote the RFR, holding sessions with the bishops of Setúbal, Porto, Braga and Évora in their respective dioceses.

Testimonies from suffering Christians

Once again, Germany celebrated the initiative by inviting guest speakers from countries where Christians are suffering. This year, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Pakistan spoke about the benefits of the interreligious dialogue he spearheads in his country, and decried issues that still plague religious minorities, such as “the presence of hate material in Pakistan’s national curriculum and textbooks, fostering hostility and intolerance. The biased curriculum perpetuates hatred towards religious minorities, leading to alienation and an inferiority complex.”

A parish church in Germany

“[Also,] girls and women from Christian and Hindu backgrounds often experience abduction, coercion into marriage, and forced conversion to Islam. Following conversion, these individuals find themselves unable to renounce their adopted faith, risking execution if they attempt to do so,” the archbishop added.

Bishop Magar Ashkarian, an Armenian Orthodox prelate from Syria, spoke about the terrible suffering of 12 years of civil war, a crippling financial crisis, and, more recently, a devastating earthquake. He asked that people in the West “do [their] utmost to ease the imposed sanctions and impediments on Syria, which are nothing else than diabolic and dehumanizing, and serve no purpose other than making people’s lives miserable.”

“So that our brothers do not feel alone”

In Latin America, the ACN office in Colombia organized conferences for missionaries working in the country. Sister Mercy Mendoza, originally from Venezuela, said, “As missionaries, we are sent to places of conflict, violence, and extreme poverty that are abandoned by the state, and our witnesses give voice to these people who suffer and are accompanied by Jesus. We give ourselves entirely so that these people can get to know a God who is close and present amid the pain. We give our souls, our lives, and our hearts, as Jesus did, so that these brothers and sisters of ours can feel that they are not alone.”

Finally, in Australia, the archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, was present at the Night of the Witnesses, which was held in a cathedral. At the end of the event, he said,  “In a country that celebrates the freedom and dignity of each human person made in God’s image, it is important that we make time to pray and reflect on the plight of so many persecuted and oppressed Christians in our world. The Night of the Witnesses is a powerful opportunity to come together in prayer and to hear first-hand the stories of contemporary martyrs who have been silenced for boldly sharing the Word of God. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, whose stories pull us out of our comfort zone and model strength and love in the Lord.”

—Filipe d’Avillez