‘We must not hide from suffering’ Iraqi archbishop says on Red Wednesday

By Courtney Grogan

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Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC, Red Wednesday. Credit: Courtney Grogan/CNA

Landmarks from London to Sydney were illuminated with red light Wednesday in tribute to the modern martyrs around the world who have offered their lives for Christ and the Church.

In Washington’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics and Church leaders from four continents gathered inside the illuminated shrine to pray solemn vespers for the persecuted Church.


“For me, it's really a blessed moment where we have the whole Church praying for us persecuted churches around the world,” Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq told CNA at the event Nov. 28.


Red Wednesday shows “that we are one in Christ. If any part of the body of Christ is suffering, the whole body is suffering,” he continued.


The Iraqi archbishop also spoke of suffering in the context of the “purification” of the Catholic Church, describing not only the persecution of the faithful in his home country, but also touching on Catholics’ suffering due to the sex abuse crisis in the West.


“We feel the pain of the Church today because of the sins of its servants, and I believe that the Holy Spirit is working in the Church for its painful cleansing from within to become purified and to be the bride of Jesus Christ,” Warda said at the prayer vigil.


“Jesus gave up everything only to be holy to the Father,” he said. “Love, peace, and forgiveness will always remain and have the last word. He will achieve victory with his grace.”


“God gave us the grace to overcome ISIS,” Warda said.


Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio, and Bishop Oliver Doeme of Maiduguri, Nigeria were among the distinguished guests at the basilica event organized by Aid to the Church in Need.


“We must not hide from suffering when it comes. We must firmly address it in faith, love, and prayer,” Warda said.


The Iraqi bishop shared stories and statistics of the suffering that his people have endured. “Since 2003, 61 churches and shrines were burned, destroyed, or harmed. Over 55,000 homes seized, 150,000 Christians were displaced in 2015. Countless Christians have been kidnapped or murdered,” he said.


“The Church in Iraq is a martyr Church,” Warda said. “Our persecution continues to make us a church of peace and reconciliation, transforming us into an apostolic, missionary church.”


“Persecution brings us closer to Jesus … We are called upon to remain faithful to the Gospel” through “an invitation to the cross,” he continued.


Throughout the prayer vigil, the names of 20 martyrs killed between 2017 and 2018 were read aloud. Priests were among the martyrs from Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Venezuela, Madagascar, and Kenya.


Those gathered in the basilica prayed for Catholics who remain missing since being kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, and Mali.


Specific attacks against large groups of Christians in Egypt, Pakistan, Central African Republic, and other countries were also remembered. On November 15, 42 people died in an attack on the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Alindao, Central African Republic.


Aid to the Church in Need began the “Red Wednesday” initiative in an effort to draw attention to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world today. On Nov. 28, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Westminster Cathedral in London, and more than a dozen other  buildings were lit red for the evening.


Warda told CNA, “This is really a time for prayer, a time to be with the persecuted one. It gives the Church a mission today … to be with those who have been persecuted for their faith, been neglected, been marginalized, to feel their pain, even when we are in distance.”


“I take this message back home and will tell them that the whole Church is praying for you,” he continued. “It makes us more strong in knowing that we are persecuted, but not forgotten.”

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