Persecuted Christians remembered on 'Red Wednesday'
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The mother church of the Philippines, the Manila Cathedral, was bathed in red light on Wednesday evening, November 22, as Filipinos marked a day to support persecuted Christians around the world.
This is Red Wednesday, a day when Catholics wear red and also light their churches in the same color.
Red, after all, is the color of martyrdom.
November 22 is also the feast of the 3rd-century martyr Saint Cecilia, when priests also wear red in Masses.
The new Vatican ambassador or papal nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, himself wore red vestments on Wednesday.
Caccia was the main celebrant of the Red Wednesday Mass at the Manila Cathedral, 5:30 pm on this day. This was Caccia's first public appearance as the new papal nuncio to the Philippines.
"I take this opportunity to thank God for the witness of all the martyrs, starting from the beginning of the Church, like Saint Cecilia, up to now, as we have seen. We are supported by their strength," Caccia said.
Red Wednesday is an initiative of the Catholic charity organization under Pope Francis, which is led in the Philippines by Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
Up to 45 cathedrals, 24 shrines, and 5 basilicas joined the activities for Red Wednesday in the Philippines. Christians in the United Kingdom, Malta, Italy, and Brazil also observed Red Wednesday.
War in Marawi
At the Manila Cathedral, Caccia's fellow Mass celebrants on Wednesday included Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña.
Marawi City, where Dela Peña's Catholic community is based, was the site of a nearly 5-month war against terrorists linked to the Islamic State (ISIS).
Dela Peña's cathedral was burned and desecrated by Maute Group terrorists during the war in Marawi City.
"We never thought that this persecution of Christians that started in the Middle East, with the upsurge of violent terrorism and extremism of radical Islam, would come to the Philippines," Dela Peña recalled.
"We in the Prelature of Marawi did not expect things like this, that the war would turn out like this," he added.
Dela Peña then thanked ACN Philippines for "this gargantuan project of helping in the reconstruction of Marawi by sharing in the more difficult task of rebuilding broken lives, communities, physical structures, and livelihood."
He also noted ACN Philippines' efforts "for our persecuted Christians in Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, and North Korea."
In Bacolod and other places, too
Dela Peña said Filipinos "vow to make an effort to stop the persecution" of Christians, "by the power of the Gospel of God's love, mercy, and compassion."
In Bacolod City, Bacolod Bishop Patricio Buzon led a prayer rally for Red Wednesday around the plaza. He was joined by priests, lay ministers, the academe, and lay Catholics, who were clad in red shirts with the message, "A Christian in solidarity with persecuted Christians."
"We express our appreciation of courage and the gift of their life,” the prelate said.
He said the diocese held the rally to "raise this awareness in the whole world."
"The deepest and most sacred of human rights is the expression of deeper faith," Buzon said.
Church 'more persecuted now'
While the Philippines is a majority Christian country, ACN pointed out that Christians suffer persecution elsewhere in the world.
"As statistics would say, Christianity is still the most persecuted religion in the world today, as it was 2,000 years ago," said ACN Philippines national director Jonathan Luciano.
"The Church is more persecuted now than before," Luciano said.
Mark von Riedemann, director for public affairs and religious freedom of ACN, called for prayers for persecuted Christians worldwide.
He also urged Christians "to call upon our governments to say you have a responsibility to make sure that Christians, like all other religious traditions in society, are protected."
"We also have the responsibility to speak up for our brothers and sisters in Christ," he said. – with reports from Marchel Espina and video by Franz Lopez/Rappler.com