Recently we were privileged to welcome Archbishop Sebastien Shaw of Lahore in Pakistan and Sr Annie Demerjian from Aleppo in Syria. The event was organised by Aid to the Church in Need. Both our guests were able to share from their experiences the tragedy of terrorism and conflict.
Archbishop Sebastian spoke of how Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws were being used routinely against Christians and how the growth of fundamentalism was pushing the Church underground. He spoke of his work to generate inter-faith dialogue to develop areas of commonality and his involvement in the political process to stem the misuse of the Blasphemy Laws, and his efforts to explain that the Christians in Pakistan are not a fifth column of an Imperialist West, but of the same soil. The Archbishop spoke with great pride of the contribution of Pakistan's Christian population; though they represent only 3% of the population, the Church witnesses to the Risen Lord through her schools and educational establishments, through healthcare and works of mercy.
Sr Annie spoke of the events in Aleppo, a place we have got to know through the news. But to meet someone who lives there brought the whole tragedy of war to the fore. She spoke of the shrapnel embedded in people's bodies as they go about their everyday tasks, the difficulty of learning how to live without legs and arms, the reality of death everywhere, the sounds of ambulances, shells, missiles, the smell of fear. Families are divided because of death and displacement. In these desperate times the Church is providing the basis of a welfare state, coordinating food distribution, caring for the elderly, helping where she can. Sr Annie even brought with her some pictures that some of the children from her school had drawn of the traumatic events that they had witnessed.
On Wednesday 23 November ACN are sponsoring an event called Red Wednesday to remember all Christians and other faith groups who suffer for their beliefs. ACN is asking schools, universities and groups to stand up against religious persecution and to make a stand for peace and tolerance by wearing an item of red clothing on the day. During our Holy Hour on that day, we will offer prayers for our persecuted brothers and sisters.