“Our aim is to break through the indifference, above all among the international community, and to strive to ensure that after 24 February no one can continue to ignore the persecution of Christians.” The words are those of Alessandro Monteduro, the director of the Italian branch of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) who formally announced the event, which is being staged by ACN on 24 February at 6 p.m. This event will involve illuminating Rome’s famous Colosseum – an ancient symbol of Christian martyrdom – in red light, and at the same time the Maronite cathedral of Saint Elias in Aleppo, Syria and the church of Saint Paul in Mosul, Iraq. The initiative was presented this morning at a press conference which was also attended by Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq and Franciscan Father Firas Lutfi, of the Custody of the Holy Land, who is also assistant parish priest at the church of Saint Francis in Aleppo.
“So many Christian communities around the world are suffering hunger, poverty and violence on account of their faith”, said Alfredo Mantovano, the president of the Italian branch of ACN. “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.”
After 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 symbolising the blood still shed today by so many Christians around the world will once again illuminate buildings of high symbolic importance during an evening that will also see the participation of eminent Church representatives such as Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the international president of ACN, and the secretary general of the Italian episcopal conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, together with other notable figures from the world of politics, notably the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, who will also be present at Rome on the stage specially set up on the Largo Gaetana Agnesi, directly opposite the Coliseum.
The event will be further enhanced by the presence of exceptional witnesses, giving first-hand testimonies of this persecution. The first will involve 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, accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, 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 suffered a terrible experience of violence and a real trial of faith from which she emerged, after succeeding in escaping, still bearing the child of one of her abductors.
Similar moments of prayer and spiritual communion will be organised in the two churches in Mosul and Aleppo.
We invite everyone to attend, either in person or in spirit, on 24 February 2018 at around 6 p.m. in Largo Gaetana Agnesi, Rome.