ROME – This Sunday the façade of the Basilica of Saint Petronius in Bologna will be lit red by Catholic charity organization Aid to the Church in Need in a bid to raise awareness of modern-day anti-Christian persecution.

Located in Italy’s northern Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna, like many other cities in the north, has been heavily impacted by the country’s COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

While the event had been planned before the outbreak began, Alessandro Monteduro, director of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Italy, said the gesture is “much more relevant in this moment that we are all living, when we cannot attend Mass.”

Speaking to Crux, he said that in the context of the outbreak, ACN is now hoping to unite, in some way, “the fears, the vulnerability and the isolation that we are all experiencing with the fear, vulnerability and isolation which unfortunately persecuted Christians experience, and not for a short amount of time.”

“We are trying to explain better to Italians, in suffering, how what we are suffering today, persecuted Christians experience probably for their entire lives,” he said, noting that March 24, two days after the event, is a day on which the Catholic Church remembers martyrs who died as missionaries.

It is also the day on which San Salvadoran Saint Oscar Romero was shot and killed in 1980 while celebrating Mass.

“We thought that the suffering, the inability to access the liturgy, the sufferings of persecuted Christians, were part of the same,” he said, adding that the message that they want to send is, “that red, that blood, the blood shed by the martyrs, says that in the end, the Christian community is one and only one.”

“We are one community which must live and must share solidarity in suffering,” he said.

Because of current quarantine restrictions in place throughout Italy, the event will not be open to the public, but locals who live nearby can participate by looking out their windows or watching the videos that ACN will publish after the event takes place.

This is not the first time ACN has lighted up a major monument to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians.

Past sites include the Colosseum in Rome; the Italian capital’s famed Trevi Fountain; the Palace of Westminster in London; the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro; the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris, and Britain’s Foreign Office.

The event comes as Christians in Iraq have yet again been thrown into uncertainty amid fresh ethnic tensions and as Syrian Christians continue to be caught in the middle of the country’s bloody civil war, which has now surpassed its 9-year mark.

Also drawing near is the first anniversary of the gruesome Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019, which killed more than 300 people, most of whom were Christians attending morning Mass.

In a video tweeted by ACN’s Italian branch, Pakistani Father David John spoke to Italians, saying, “We have received news of your suffering due to the coronavirus, and this has greatly saddened us.”

“We know that you cannot participate in Holy Masses, and because of this in our celebrations we are praying that God brings this plague to an end,” he said, voicing gratitude that in the midst of the difficulties they are facing, “you have not forgotten persecuted Christians.”

“We are praying for you, and you are praying for us. Prayer is the greatest vaccine to defeat any virus,” he said.

Monteduro voiced hope that Sunday’s event in Bologna will not only serve as an opportunity to raise awareness, but also increase prayer for persecuted Christians.

“I want to believe that once this pandemic is over, this terrible moment we are living, not only in Italy, among the positive things we’ll leave our homes with can be a stronger awareness of how those who every day live with that marginalization, isolation and condition of minority can’t be left alone,” he said.

“I hope that when this dramatic and terrible tragedy ends, we can be more aware of the suffering of others…including those who flee persecution, all types,” he said, saying he wants there to be an increase in solidarity amid suffering: “suffering of those who today have the coronavirus, and the suffering of those who live under persecution and fundamentalist extremism.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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