LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Red light will bathe churches and monuments in countries around to world to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians.
Red Wednesday is a campaign promoted by Aid to the Church in Need and Christian Solidarity Worldwide to encourage people to “stand up for religious freedom.”
Aid to the Church in Need UK’s John Pontifex said this is more important than ever, since the state of religious freedom “has declined in many, many countries.”
“We are not talking about just Christians, but we are talking about all different types of faith communities, but in the case of Christians, that situation has declined considerably,” he told Crux.
According to the papal charity, 100,000 Christians are killed because of their religion every year, and 200 million Christians face persecution and violence every day due to their faith.
Pontifex said the color red was chosen both because it is the symbol of martyrdom and because “it is a time to see red” and confront the issue on the world stage.
He said the situation hasn’t been helped by the fact that human rights organizations have been focusing on other issues.
“We have seen a decline in persecution awareness, and in fact, religious freedom has gone down the human rights priority rankings. It’s not to the fore, as it could be, and it certainly doesn’t rank alongside the top ones of gender, race, ethnicity or sexuality…this means persecution has actually gotten worse, because where it is not mentioned in the media the likelihood is that government will not feel under pressure to act,” Pontifex told Crux.
He said this reticence is partly because the “intellectual elites” of the West are uncertain of the place of religion in the public square.
“There’s perhaps even an anxiety about what religion offers,” he added.
“The fact remains, that in many of the countries where Aid to the Church in Need is active – be it in Pakistan, or Syria, or Iraq, or China – religion is the fundamental dimension that defines people’s identity, and if we don’t understand the importance of religion, we can’t begin to understand how these people tick,” Pontifex said.
“There is this sort of mismatch, or disconnect, between a part of the world – the larger part of the world – which is primarily a world where religious consciousness is to the fore, and the world in the West where religion doesn’t have that same place in public consciousness, and it would appear to be in decline,” he explained.
Last week, Aid to the Church in Need released its “Religious Freedom in the World 2018 Report,” which documented a rise of persecution due to Islamic fundamentalism in large parts of the Muslim world, as well as from nationalist Hindus in India, atheists in China and North Korea, and Buddhists in Myanmar.
Bishop Alan McGuckian said: “The truth is that in our modern world Christians are more likely than ever before to suffer being imprisoned ‘disappeared’, sexually harassed, tortured or executed.”
The Raphoe bishop serves as the chair of the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“On Red Wednesday, we remember the horrific reality of religious violence and intolerance in our world and we state definitively that those who do not respect freedom of thought, conscience and religion must be held to account,” McGuckian said.
Although Red Wednesday is mainly observed in the United Kingdom and Ireland, it is spreading to other countries quickly. Events are taking place this year in the United States, Australia, and the Philippines; with events in Pakistan possibly raising awareness for the Red Wednesday commemoration.
In many ways, Pakistan’s Asia Bibi could be a poster child for Christian persecution. Bibi spent 8 years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam, a charge she denied. After finally being acquitted last month, protests broke out across the country demanding her immediate execution. She is currently in hiding and the Pakistani government has refused to allow her to leave the country.
Pontifex said it was a coincidence that Red Wednesday was taking place at the time of the “continuing wrangling” over Bibi’s future, but that her case highlights the problems facing Christians in many parts of the world.
“She is still held in what is called protective custody and it’s still almost a month after that acquittal came through, and it’s not clear whether she will ever find freedom, certainly whether she will find freedom in the short term,” Pontifex said.
Lord David Alton, a long-time advocate for religious liberty, said Red Wednesday should be a moment to focus on the Asia Bibi case, and to urge the UK government to offer her asylum.
“But it should also be a moment to reflect on how our asylum and aid policies interface with genocide, persecution and crimes against humanity – all of which are being experienced by Christians in different parts of the world,” he told Crux.
“The British Government should use its resources and influence to make freedom of religion and belief a cornerstone of its foreign policy. For instance, it should immediately suspend aid to Pakistan until it stops the persecution of its religious minorities. We pour in an average of £383,000 [around $490,000] every single day – £2.8 billion [over $3.5 billion] over the past twenty years – and yet an innocent woman, Asia Bibi, is on the run for her life while lynch mobs seek to hold their government to ransom,” Alton said.
Like Pontifex, Alton said the human rights community has on the whole ignored the plight of religious minorities.
“People who say they care about human rights are remarkably silent when it comes to religious persecution. Red Wednesday should act as a wake-up call,” Alton told Crux.