Stonyhurst's red witness for the world's persecuted

Red Wednesday: solidarity for those who suffer for their beliefs
Red Wednesday: solidarity for those who suffer for their beliefs

Stonyhurst College in Lancashire will be among the major faith institutions across the country that will join with Aid to the Church in Need by illuminating their buildings in red tomorrow to honour those who suffer because of their religion. Red Wednesday is an occasion for people to stand in solidarity with the millions who are targeted for their beliefs and are living in fear. It takes place on the Feast of the Pope and Martyr, St Clement, and a growing number of parishes, schools and groups around the country are pledging their support for the day of witness.

The buildings taking part in the Red Wednesday witness include Catholic, Church of England and Free Churches which are being lit up in red – most notably Westminster and Brentwood Cathedrals, Westminster Abbey and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue at St John’s Wood, as well as Stonyhurst and the Palace of Westminster. “We are also inviting everyone, and especially schools, groups, and university students to wear red – as a symbol of the suffering today of people of faith,” says the event’s coordinator Patricia Hatton. “Priests too can get involved by wearing red vestments to celebrate the Feast of St Clement.”Brentwood Cathedral will be illuminated for Red Wednesday

Inter-faith witness

In addition to the illumination of buildings and the personal witness, a red Routemaster London bus emblazoned with the words “Stand up for Faith and Freedom #RedWednesday” will be making its way through London.  It will be waved off at 11.30am from Westminster Cathedral by youngsters from the nearby St Vincent de Paul Primary School and will be stopping at the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre, St Paul’s Cathedral and St John’s Wood Synagogue, as well as Westminster Abbey. Students from schools in many parts of the UK will also be marking Red Wednesday by wearing an item of red clothing and holding prayer services and other activities in support of people suffering for their faith.

Lord Alton speaks at Farm Street Church about the persecution of Christians in SyriaAfter stopping at Westminster Abbey at 4.30pm tomorrow for photographs to be taken with dignitaries, the ACN red bus will go on to Westminster Cathedral, where it will remain until 7.30pm. In the Cathedral Piazza, a prayer service will be led by Westminster Youth Ministry team with music provided by Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (who regularly sing at Farm Street Jesuit Church in London) and violinist, Cathy Fox. Westminster Cathedral itself will be lit up in red from 6.30pm until midnight.

Lives soaked in blood

“This is a chance to focus on the dramatic increase in religious persecution worldwide which has occurred in the past six years,” says Lord Alton, Chair of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst and a former Governor of the school. “More than five billion people - 76 per cent of the world’s population - live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion: from Bangladesh, where atheists are murdered with impunity to Saudi Arabia where churches are banned and converts are criminalised. In Burma, Muslim Rohinga are denied citizenship, and in Iran, Bahais are executed. Meanwhile, bishops in China are imprisoned and churches are demolished; and in countries like Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and North Korea, believers are subjected to genocide, crimes against humanity, persecution or discrimination: lives are literally soaked in blood.”

Lord Alton was educated at Edmund Campion Grammar School, which the Jesuits founded in 1962 in Hornchurch, and is a parent of four former Stonyhurst pupils. He says that Red Wednesday is an opportunity to show solidarity with people of faith and to demonstrate that their suffering is not forgotten. “It is a chance for people of all faiths and none to shine a light on global suffering,” he stresses.

On Thursday, Lord Alton will be chairing the launch of Aid to the Church in Need’s 2016 Religious Freedom in the World report in the House of Commons. The report assesses the situation for different faith communities in 196 countries – every nation on earth - and its launch will be addressed by several senior faith leaders who will also be at Red Wednesday events. These will include His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who is based in Damascus, Syria; Dr Sarah Bernstein of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, Israel; and Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri Ameer, Head-Imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Educational & Cultural Centre in Ireland.