Over 245 million Christians are living in places where they experience high levels of persecution, while 4,305 Christians were killed because of their faith from 2017 to 2019, and 1,847 Churches and other Christian building were attacked in that period.
The week will see talks and exhibitions throughout the island of Ireland on the theme of Christian persecution, including Red Wednesday prayer vigils today in dioceses and parishes throughout the country.
Launching the Week of Witness, Bishop Michael Router, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh, said that “Christians are the most persecuted religious grouping in the world at present” and noted that even in Ireland Christians are now targeted for their beliefs.
“The Pew Research Centre in London reported in the June 2018 that in 143 of the 195 countries around the world there were incidents of persecution and harassment against Christians,” he told mass-goers at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh.
He recalled the Easter Sunday bombing of Catholic Churches and Christian places of worship in Sri Lanka which left 259 people dead and hundreds injured, and the attacks on Christians in the Northern Nigerian states of Kaduna and Adamawa which left more than 300 people dead.
Bishop Router noted that North Korea is the number one country for persecution according to Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. They estimate that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 secret Christians in the communist state, and that nearly 70,000 of them are being held in brutal labour camps.
“True Christianity has always stood for the rights of everyone particularly the basic rights that come before all else; the right to life, the right to food and shelter, the right to education. Often in defending these rights Christians have had to stand against the powerful, the wealthy and the tyrannical and have suffered as a result,” he said.
The Aid to the Church in Need report also states that between 2017 and 2019 Christians were the victims of 80% of all persecution worldwide. Director Michael Kinsella said the Week of Witness and Red Wednesday offered an opportunity to Christians to “stand up for their faith and recognize the martyrs of yesterday today and tomorrow. ”
“It’s an invitation to people to remember those who have survived in the most extraordinarily difficult of circumstances in defense of their faith. This is happening right across the world at this moment in time where over 250 million Christians now live in circumstances in which it is illegal to bless oneself, where if one is found with a Bible, if one is found attending Mass one can be imprisoned, tortured or even killed on the part of the state, so this is something that we want to highlight,” he told iCatholic.
In his homily, Bishop Router warned against thinking that the persecution of Christians is a problem that happens elsewhere. He cautioned that: even here in Ireland, to publicly espouse Christian ideals can lead to ridicule, insult and aggression. So today, and every day, we are called to be witnesses and to take on a kind of martyrdom in standing up for what we believe in and what we know is right and just.”
Archbishop Eamon Martin will celebrate the liturgy for Red Wednesday in St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh today at 7.30pm.