St Patrick’s Cathedral was floodlit red on 24 November to mark Red Wednesday, a global initiative of Aid to the Church in Need that seeks to raise awareness of the plight of those persecuted for their religious beliefs. A special prayer vigil was held and attended by clergy and representatives from Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, migrant chaplains and community members from across the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Monsignor Joselito Cerna Asis, Episcopal Vicar for Migrants and Refugees, presided over the vigil, which was livestreamed to the Archdiocesan YouTube channel. Monsignor Thair Sheikh, Parish Priest of Our Lady Guardian of Plants Chaldean Catholic Church, provided the homily and described his own experience of religious persecution.

‘My childhood was different from most childhood stories,’ said Monsignor Thair. He described growing up around the time of the Iraq-Iran War, and the regular sounds of bombs on the streets. ‘We lived in fear and poverty.’

Religious persecution is a crime against humanity. I have been chased by ISIS and nearly killed because I believe in Jesus. Each individual has the right to practice his or her faith. Stand up for our persecuted brothers and sisters.’

The vigil included the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and after a period of silent reflection, the Lord’s Prayer was sung in Arabic by Fr Zaher Mhanna, chaplain to St Vincent's Hospital. Prayers of intercession were led by representatives from the Filipino, South Sudanese and Syrian communities.

Following the vigil, attendees gathered in the forecourt of St Patrick's Cathedral to watch the façade and spires light up in red.

The 2021 Religious Freedom in the World Report revealed that as of 2021, two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries where there are serious violations to religious freedom. It is also clear that the persecution of Christians is worse today than at any time in history.

‘Signs of religious freedom violations observed in our 2018 report accelerated and expanded to the current situation, where systematic and egregious attacks are coming from governments, whether China or North Korea, as well as international terror groups, such as Boko Haram or the so-called Islamic State and other fundamentalist groups,’ wrote Dr Marcela Szymanski, Head of Advocacy for Aid to the Church in Need International.

‘These problems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. States have used the insecurity to increase control over their citizens, and non-state actors have taken advantage of the confusion to recruit, expand and provoke wider humanitarian crises.’

The report also revealed significant progress especially in interreligious dialogue, citing the increasingly important role of religious leaders in the mediation and resolution of hostilities and war.

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