Pope Francis has sent a message of encouragement to hundreds of Scottish school pupils who gathered in Motherwell, Scotland on Monday to highlight Christian persecution around the world.

500 young people from Scotland’s Catholic schools joined the ‘stand up for faith and freedom’ annual youth rally organised by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Via video link, the young Catholics were able to ask questions of their counterparts from Iraq who have been displaced due to conflict and they received an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis via the papal nuncio.

Bishop John Keenan of Paisley Diocese read the opening prayer for the youth rally on October 7, before revealing that the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain Archbishop Edward Adams had sent an Apostolic Letter on behalf of Pope Francis.

The letter read: “Informed of this Rally that will take place under the auspices of Aid to the Church in Need, Pope Francis invokes the intercession of the Saints and Martyrs who in the history of the Church have been the victims of hatred and who have suffered for their Faith, even to the point of death.

“His Holiness hopes that the Scottish Youth Rally will arouse attention on the part of all to the unjust treatment that even today so many disciples of the Lord Christ receive in many parts of the world.

“The Holy Father sends his affectionate greetings to the organisers and young people taking part in this worthy initiative, and willingly imparts to them and their loved ones his Apostolic Blessing, as a pledge of abundant graces from the God of love and peace.”

Bishop Keenan later spoke on stage with Fr Martin Delaney, parish priest of St Aloyisus and Sacred Heart in Chapelhall, about their experience visiting Iraq in November 2018.

The pair revealed how they were ‘horrified’ by the destruction caused by Isis before they were defeated in 2016 and revealed how they spent one overnight in a seminary which for three years during the conflict was used as an Isis headquarters.

Organisers had set up a live video link with a group of young Iraqi pupils to allow pupils from Scotland to interact with their fellow Christians and ask questions about their experiences.

Head of ACN Scotland, Lorraine McMahon, said: “I’d like to thank everyone who came along to our fifth annual youth rally, it was a fantastic day and it really gives the young people an opportunity to make a stand for Faith and freedom.

“Sadly, religious intolerance has become all too common all around the world to the point that in some places it is life threatening to be a Christian. Our mission at ACN is to support Christians who are persecuted or in pastoral need.

“Today’s event helps raise awareness within our young people about the plight of Christians around the world.