The Roman Colosseum along with two churches in Mosul and Aleppo will be lit up by red lights later this month to draw attention to the global persecution of Christians.
“Christians are the victims of at least 75 percent of all religiously-motivated violence and oppression,” declared the latest report from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the group organizing the event, and moreover “the extent of this persecution is largely ignored by our media.”
In a gesture meant to combat global indifference to the plight of persecuted Christians, on Saturday, Feb. 24, one of Rome’s most iconic structures—the Colosseum—will be illuminated in red, representing Christians who have shed their blood for the faith.
At the same time, prominent churches in Syria and Iraq will be illuminated with red lights as well. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit up in red, as will the Church of St. Paul in Mosul. Turning on the lights in Mosul, said the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako I, “means bringing back hope to Iraqi Christians who have suffered so much.”
According to Alfredo Mantovano, president of ACN-Italy, the media event is meant as a denunciation of “the martyrdom suffered by our brothers and sisters.” It is our intention, he said, “to involve them directly through two of the communities who have suffered the most in recent years, those of Syria and Iraq.”
Last year, Aid to the Church in Need organized a similar event, lighting up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines as a sign of solidarity with persecuted Christians everywhere.
In 2016, Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain was bathed in red light in a move reminiscent of the first plague of Egypt, commemorating the many new martyrs killed in our time for their faith in Jesus Christ. The ten plagues, brought down by Moses through the power of God, were meant to soften the hard heart of Pharaoh, who held the Israelites enslaved in Egypt.
“In terms of the number of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history,” said John Pontifex, editor of the latest ACN biennial report on Christian persecution.
In the 13 countries where Christians suffer the most intense persecution, the situation has worsened in all but one—Saudi Arabia—in the last two years, and conditions there have stayed the same.
“In almost all the countries reviewed,” the report reads, “the oppression and violence against Christians have increased since 2015 – a development especially significant given the rate of decline in the immediate run-up to the reporting period.”
“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.
The group has also complained of culpable inaction on the part of western countries that have shown little effective support for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
“Governments in the West and the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” ACN’s website relates. “If Christian organisations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”
In the forward to the report, Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop John Darwish of Lebanon noted that up to the present, “the UN and other humanitarian organizations have provided no aid” leaving the oppressed Christians to fend for themselves.
John Pontifex told the Tablet that the “pc agenda” among western governments and mainstream media is preventing the attention that the Christian community requires.
According to another watchdog organization that monitors Christian persecution, the year 2017 saw a violent and sustained attack on Christian faith, with at least 215 million Christians facing severe persecution, including 3,066 deaths, 1,020 rapes, 1,252 kidnappings and 793 attacks on churches.
Open Doors, an organization founded in 1955 to assist persecuted Christians, publishes an annual “World Watch List,” reporting on attacks against Christians and ranking the most hostile national environments for believers.
In its 2018 report, Open Doors noted that Islamic oppression fuels persecution in 8 of the top 10 countries of their Watch List.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome