The opening prayer of last November 22nd’s Red Wednesday Mass read, “Let us pray for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters, for their oppressors, for those who foster persecution, and for those who ignore it.”
The line perfectly sums up the solemn ceremony prepared by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) as the local Church here institutionally acknowledged for the first time its responsibility for persecuted Christians living in other countries.
At the start of the liturgy at the Manila Cathedral, a large image of the Crucified Christ was carried to the altar, clearly sending a message that it is Christ himself who is persecuted whenever a Christian dies in the name of faith.
The solemn ceremony was presided by His Excellency Monsignor Gabriele Giordano Caccia, the newly-designated papal nuncio to the Philippines who had just arrived in the country days before Red Wednesday.
ACN Philippines distributed to all participating ecclesial territories in the country a five-minute video compiling the accounts of Christian persecution in the Middle East and Africa as documented by ACN’s international office.
In his homily, His Excellency Most Rev. Edwin de la Peña, speaking on behalf of the CBCP, pledged to do more for suffering Christians.
“We vow to stop persecution by Christ’s Gospel of love. We will strive to generate spiritual and material help to all victims of hate and religious intolerance and pledge that they will no longer be forgotten,” the Bishop said.
After the Liturgy of the Eucharist, a five-minute video paid tribute to the Christians who were killed in 2017. ACN Philippines compiled these accounts from reputable news media outlets around the world.
After the video, the faithful were given candles to light as Archbishop Caccia led the faithful to a short procession to the facade of the cathedral.
As the cathedral’s facade was illuminated in red, Archbishop Caccia proclaimed, “Let us enter into the suffering of those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, repenting of our ignorance, refusing to be silent, ready to reach out to them in their isolation.”
Before he ended the Eucharistic celebration, Archbishop Caccia did not forget to honor and pay tribute to the modern day Christian martyrs whose suffering and death served as a compelling testimony of Christ’s love.
“We, therefore, don’t ask him to prevent us from the test, rather we ask him to be ready when it comes,” the Archbishop said.
His message is a perfect reminder of the last words of Lorenzo Ruiz, a Christian martyr, and the Philippines’ first saint:
“I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for God. Had I a thousand lives, then a thousand times I will offer these to Him.”