Today, Wednesday 22 November is Red Wednesday. Several churches across Ireland, including Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, Saint Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, the Cathedral of the Assumption in Cashel and Emly, Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Longford and Our Lady’s Basilica at Knock, have been lit in red today in solidarity with persecuted Christians.
Red is the Christian colour of martyrdom. To promote awareness and solidarity with persecuted Christians throughout the world, Aid to the Church in Need Ireland (ACN) have invited churches to light in red, and for people to wear red clothing as a reminder of the many Christians who have shed their blood for their faith.
Speaking at a vigil of prayer yesterday for lighting Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, red, Archbishop Eamon Martin said, ‘Jesus told his apostles before he left them at the Ascension: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!” (Acts 1:8)
‘Many churches and public buildings in Ireland and Britain are being lit up in red this week, and people are wearing a red item of clothing, to help shine a light on the reality of Christian persecution across the world, and to highlight the injustices perpetrated against other minority and faith groups.’
He continued, ‘It happens that Red Wednesday this year falls on the Feast of Saint Cecilia – perhaps one of the most well-known martyrs of the early Christian Church. Wearing red on 22nd November is therefore nothing unusual – we wear red vestments on all the martyrs’ feasts and also on days which recall Christ’s suffering, like Palm Sunday and Good Friday.
‘Red also points us to the Holy Spirit – the fire of God’s love. We wear red vestments on Pentecost Sunday, for the Sacrament of Confirmation and on other Masses of the Holy Spirit. This is fitting; the word martyr means ‘witness’, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the courage to witness.’
Archbishop Martin went on to say, ‘In my Latin class at school we learned the phrase: sanguis martyrum semen Christianorum est – the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. It was written by the historian Tertullian more than 18 centuries ago, at a time when the Roman Empire was determined to stamp out the rapidly growing Christian faith. This era is often referred to as the Age of Martyrs, when the blood of Christians poured out red as thousands laid down their lives rather than renounce or compromise their faith in the midst of Pagan culture. But the blood of the martyrs turned out to be the seed of the Church. Far from destroying the faith through fear and intimidation, the cruelty of persecution magnified the powerful witness of these faithful believers. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Christianity was renewing the face of the earth and nothing would stop it.
‘All that may seem a long time ago, but it is shocking to realise that in the twenty-first century, Christians continue to be persecuted, displaced, intimidated, tortured, and even executed on account of their faith. Places of worship are targeted by violence and destruction.’
He continued, ‘The recently published second report on Christians oppressed for their faith by Aid to the Church in Need: Persecuted and Forgotten 2015-2017, highlights some grim realities that might otherwise have remained hidden for many of us, including:
- The terrible life-threatening conditions for many Christians trying to live and believe in North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan Pakistan and Sudan;
- The reality that in almost all the countries reviewed, the oppression and violence against Christians have increased since 2015;
- The impact of the displacement and exodus of Christians in countries like Iraq and Syria threatens to extinguish some of the oldest Christian presences in the world;
- The horrendous activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria whose genocide has led to the displacement of millions;
- The hostile treatment of Church communities in China, with widespread removal of crosses and demolition of church buildings;
- The “unspeakable atrocities” against Christians in North Korea.’
He concluded, ‘Our call to witness compels us to courageously present in public discourse our sincerely held Christian convictions about the dignity of the person and the sacredness of all human life, about marriage and the family; about the widening gap between rich and poor and the need for solidarity and a fair distribution of goods in the world; about care for the Earth, our Common Home; about the need to build a society that is marked by peace, justice and care for all, especially the most vulnerable.
‘I thank God for the freedom of worship and religion that we enjoy on this island, a freedom that is denied so many people in our world today. I recognise that to be like Christ in an increasingly secularised world increasingly means being different, counter-cultural, and not easily swayed by the prevailing attitudes and opinions around us.
‘On this Red Wednesday I invite you to pray for the gift of courage, the grace of witness and loyalty to Christ for Christians all over the world and especially for those who continue to be challenged, attacked, displaced or even murdered for what they believe in.’
The full text of Archbishop Martin’s address can be found on www.catholicbishops.ie.
For more information on Red Wednesday see www.acnireland.org.