On the evening of Wednesday 23 November, the familiar silhouette of St Patrick’s Cathedral took on a striking red hue. It was one of hundreds of churches, cathedrals and monuments around the world taking part in Red Wednesday, an initiative of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation dedicated to supporting suffering and persecuted Christians.

Each November, major buildings and landmarks are floodlit in red—the colour of sacrifice—to draw attention to the plight of Christians around the world who experience discrimination, intimidation and persecution because of their faith.

As part of this intitiative, St Patrick’s Cathedral also hosted a Red Wednesday Prayer Vigil, presided over by Msgr Joselito Asis, Episcopal Vicar for Migrants and Refugees. As evening fell and the exterior of the cathedral began to glow red against the grey Melbourne skies, people from across the city gathered inside to pray and stand in solidarity with those who do not experience the kinds of religious freedoms that we in Australia enjoy and often take for granted.

In a moving liturgy, punctuated by beautiful music and periods of silent prayer, intercessions were offered for those suffering discrimination and religious persecution, as well as ‘those of us who enjoy freedom of worship’, that we may ’never forget the cries of those who bear a heavy cross for their faith’.

In his reflection, Paul Woods, President of ACN Australia, shared troubling stories about terrorist attacks on churches in Nigeria—the country where the most Christians are killed each year—and about the plight of persecuted Christians from the Nineveh Plains in Iraq, 120,000 of whom have been forced to flee their homes to escape invading fighters from the terrorist group ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

‘These stories confirm the awful reality that people who share our faith in Christ are being attacked, displaced and killed simply because of their faith around the world,’ he said. ‘We can’t see it, and it is difficult for us to comprehend, but it is real.’

Explaining that local Christian communities are often a favoured target for violent extremists, who see such attacks as ‘a legitimate alternative to a direct strike on the West’, Mr Woods pointed to the sharp rise in Christian persecution in recent years:

According to Pope Francis, conditions for Christians are worse now than they were in the days of the early Church. Three hundred and forty million Christians suffer harassment or persecution; one out of eight Christians suffers from a severe form of persecution.

Much of this persecution has been documented in ACN’s recently released Persecuted and Forgotten? report, summaries of which were distributed at the cathedral after the vigil.

To learn more, or to support the work of Aid to the Church in Need, visit their website at aidtochurch.org.