ROSARIO, Argentina – A grassroots coalition is staging join a 24-hour Good Friday prayer marathon for persecuted Christians, to be held online, with the participation of religious leaders from persecuted communities in China, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Ethiopia and other countries.
To be held via Zoom, the event is set to start at sunrise Jerusalem on Holy Friday and to end at sunrise Jerusalem on Saturday, is organized by Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC). People from all faiths and languages are welcome to join, though prayers will be in English.
“We believe that no matter what language the prayers are spoken in, it will be an impulse from the Holy Spirit to unite Christians and people of other faiths to lift our prayers and uphold those who are literally nailed to the Cross with Jesus,” said Dede Laugesen, Executive Director of STPC.
“It’s our duty, like Simon of Cyrene, to lift that cross and walk with Jesus and those who are experiencing this trial of Golgotha with him,” she said.
The online prayer day is “such a beautiful moment, and it really does oblige us to be present with Christ as he experiences his passion. It’s a way to dig in deep and to be a part of it with him,” she told Crux over the phone.
This is the second Good Friday this initiative is held, and last year “hundreds joined us globally for a passion prayer for persecuted Christians.”
“We will have leaders from persecuted communities leading hours of prayer and persecuted Christians as well to join and link up with Christians from all over the world to lift them up,” Laugesen said.
Since most prayer leaders are from persecuted communities, the full schedule isn’t being advertised. Responsibility for organizing the timetable fell on Dr. Oluwasayo Ajiboye, director of Mission Africa International. Those wishing to participate can join in throughout the day, following this link.
The prayer initiative is an ecumenical effort, and the list of leaders include Catholic priests, Anglican and Evangelical leaders in addition to persecuted Christians themselves, who will be joining throughout the day and sharing their witness.
Laugesen defined STPC as an international organization, a coalition of faith leaders and civil society from all over the world, concerned that men and women of Western nations, including the United States, don’t understand the violence Christians face on a daily basis, at an increasing rate in several countries.
“We’ve come together to promote and elevate stories of persecuted Christians and to work with elected officials to enact policies that can decrease the level of persecution and find creative means to hold the persecutors accountable for their crimes against humanity,” she said.
Though exact numbers are hard to find, as Pope Francis has said repeatedly, more Christians have died in the past century than in all prior centuries since Jesus’ time combined. It’s believed that nearly a million Christians were martyred in the decade between 2005 and 2015 alone.
According to a biannual report from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a pontifical foundation that helps persecuted Christians, 300 million Christians experienced persecution between 2017 and 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation for many of these Christians all the more dire: “We are specifically concerned about the large populations of migrant workers in South East Asia, many of whom are going to be Christians, who are now making a perilous journey back home,” Laugesen said. “They’re now without work, they have been uprooted from their livelihoods. They are making journeys of hundreds of miles on foot without access to food or water, and they are in a very perilous situation.”
She also said that STPC is particularly concerned about what’ happening in India, where they’ve been told Prime Minister Narendra Modi may use the RSS Hindu extremist paramilitary to provide food to every home in India. Marginalized Christians and other religious minorities fear they may not receive the aid, given the history of animosity with the RSS.
According to an April 2 statement by ACN, the concern is not without merit.
“India is currently under a total lockdown as a result of COVID-19,” the statement reads. “Millions of low-paid migrant workers have suddenly found themselves unemployed as a result of the total shutdown of the country for a period of 21 days, following the announcement by the Indian government on Wednesday 25 March. It is a measure that has prompted a mass exodus from the cities on a scale never seen before.”
An Indian nun, Sister Christin Joseph of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross (SCSC), spoke to ACN to describe the situation: “There is an endless stream of tens of thousands of people trying to return on foot to their home villages, some of which are over 620 miles away, carrying their children and their belongings with them. All transport has been stopped, except for essential services, as the authorities struggle to contain the virus, which has already infected over 1000 people.”
According to Sister Christin, the situation is worsened by the exceptionally high temperatures.
A lack of work, particularly in the poorest states of the North such as Jharkhand, Odisha, Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, has forced thousands of people to emigrate to the major cities of the southern states, which are wealthier and have more opportunities for employment.
“Thousands of them are simple day workers, living in cramped apartments, working long hours for a few dollars a day in conditions that are often unsafe and without any social security network. What little is left over in the way of money after covering their basic expenses, they try to save for their families,” Sister Christin said. “Now because of the lockdown, they want to go back.”
Another statement, also from ACN, details the dire situation of Christians in the Holy Land, most of whom rely on tourism.
“Many Christians will suffer from this, especially in Bethlehem, because they are employed in the tourist sector,” said Brother Ibrahim Faltas, in charge of ACN’s relations with the Palestinian Authority and Israel for the Custody of the Holy Land.
Laugesen told Crux that they are also keeping a close watch on what is going in Nigeria, where armed groups affiliated with Boko Haram continue to attack Christian villages. In recent days, several villages have been attacked, including a nursing home with seven elderly women who were all burned to death.
“The violence against Christians continues in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” she said. “And for those who were already facing incredible persecution their situation has been exacerbated by the COVID crisis as it has put them in even more danger than they were in before. Now, more than ever we need to be joining in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and lifting them up in prayer.”
“This Holy Week, with no presence of the faithful during services, it’s all the more important that Christians come together in prayer for all our brothers and sisters to really enter into their suffering and be in it with them,” Laugesen.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma