Rome’s Coliseum turns red in memory of persecuted Christians

Rome’s famous Colosseum was illuminated in red on Saturday 24 Feb to draw attention to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. The event at 6 p.m. (local time) was the initiative of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Pontifical Foundation that supports suffering Christians in over 140 countries around the world,Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said, as he stood in front of the floodlit historical landmark: “There are millions of people in the world who are suffering for their faith, and we pretend it was nothing.”

Among the hundreds of millions of people who still suffer discrimination or, worse, persecution because of their religious faith, the most numerous are undoubtedly Christians.To them, the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need has dedicated the gesture of illuminating with red light simultaneously, three symbolic places of ancient and modern Christian martyrdom, connected to each other via Skype:

  • the Colosseum in Rome;
  • the Maronite Cathedral of St. Elias, in Aleppo, Syria, whose roof was destroyed by bombings;
  • the Chaldean church of St. Paul in Mosul, Iraq, where on December 24, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldean Catholics, Louis Raphael I Sako, celebrated the first Mass after liberation from ISIS

Other countries hostile to religious freedom include Pakistan, from where Ashiq and Eisham, travelled to Rome. They are the husband and daughter of Asia Bibi, sentenced to death in 2009 for alleged blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. Asia’s “crime” was that she drank water from the same glass as some Muslim women. Now she is in prison, in isolation.

Another of the testimonies offered to the public while the Colosseum was lit up red is that of Rebecca Bitros, 28, a Nigerian, kidnapped by the Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram, who raped and tortured her only because she is Christian, before she managed to free herself, two years later.

Rebecca and the family of Asia Bibi were invited by ACN to give their witness at the event on Saturday evening. Among the Italian politicians who participated was the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani. He asked Europe to “defend the message of freedom for everyone who wants to live their faith publicly.”

Cardinal Parolin said in his speech: Today’s Christian martyrs are “victims of the propagation of a mentality that does not make room for others, which prefers to suppress rather than integrate them, in order to not put in question their own convictions”. “Only by returning to God, the source of the dignity of every human being, can we become peacemakers and reunite societies broken up by hatred and violence.”

Both Rebecca and the relatives of Asia Bibi were received by Pope Francis at the Vatican. “Thank you for your work, you do well!”. This is how Pope Francis congratulated the delegation of Aid to the Church in Need during the private audience on Saturday morning.

During the audience – which lasted 40 minutes, instead of the 15 minutes initially planned in the Pope’s tightly packed agenda – Francis expressly wanted to pray for Asia Bibi and for the women who are still today held as prisoners of Boko Haram. “The testimony of Rebecca and that of Asia Bibi are a model for a society that today is increasingly afraid of pain. They are two martyrs, ” said the Pope after listening to the dramatic story of the violence suffered by the Nigerian woman who gave birth to the son of one of her jailers, and that of the family of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani woman who has been in prison since 2009 and was sentenced to death for blasphemy.

“I often think of your mother very often and I pray for her”, said the Pope to Eisham, who, greeting the Pope, embraced him saying “When I met my mother before I left, she asked me to kiss you.”  Asia’s husband, Ashiq, added: ” Holy Father – I ask you to pray, united in Christ, for my wife and for all the persecuted Christians.”

ACN International