[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] London’s Westminster Abbey will be lit up in red tonight in an act of solidarity with people around the world who are persecuted for their faith. It is one of a number of religious buildings that are joining the #RedWednesday campaign by the Roman Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). As part of the campaign, one of London’s iconic red busses is taking part in a faith-buildings tour today, to spread the “Stand up for Faith and Freedom message”.
After setting off from Westminster Cathedral – the seat of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales – the bus will call at the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood, and Westminster Abbey before returning to the Cathedral where a gathering and service will be held.
The Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Ignatius Aphrem II, has travelled from Damascus for the event, which will also be attended by Dr Sarah Bernstein, director-general of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations in Israel, and Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri Ameer, head-imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational & Cultural Centre in Ireland.
“We hope that the ACN red bus as it travels London on Red Wednesday will highlight the very real and pressing issue of those suffering because they are persecuted today for their peacefully held beliefs,” ACN’s national director Neville Kyrke-Smith said. “We will invite all those, whether Christian or other faiths to attend and show their support for the right of a person to practise their religion in peace”.
In a Tweet this morning, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby signalled his support for the day, saying: “In Communion this morning, we prayed for all victims of religious violence around the world - and for governments too.”
St George’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Stevenage, to the north of London, is one of the buildings to be lit in red. “At a time in our contemporary history when we must be most aware of rights and liberties given by God and enshrined in various laws and international conventions, it is unfathomable that some still suffer, are marginalised and persecuted, for the faith they choose to hold, or even reject,” the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said.
The campaign was the subject of a short debate in the House of Commons – the primary chamber of Britain’s Parliament – last week. Moving the debate, parliamentarian Chris Green said that “The Christian community in Iraq is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the first century. There were thought to be 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before the invasion in 2003. However, that number is reported to have fallen now to about 230,000. Although many people have been persecuted and have fled the region, that figure shows the targeted nature of the persecution and, if it carries on in that direction, we will soon see the end of Christianity in much of the middle east.”
Responding to the debate, minister Tobias Ellwood said that the British government “will continue to fight for the freedom of religion or belief internationally. We do so not only because it is right and is enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights and in article 18 of the international covenant on civil and political rights but because extending freedom of religion or belief to more countries and more societies helps to make the world safer and more prosperous, which is in all our interests.”
Tomorrow, ACN will publish its 2016 Religious Freedom in the World report, which assesses the situation for different faith communities in all 196 countries.