Persecuted Christians remembered on ‘Red Wednesday’

Paterno Esmaquel II
Persecuted Christians remembered on ‘Red Wednesday’
(UPDATED) 'We never thought that this persecution of Christians that started in the Middle East...would come to the Philippines,' Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña says at the Manila Cathedral

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.

VATICAN ENVOY. Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia makes his first public appearance in the Philippines on Red Wednesday, November 22, 2017. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

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.

HORRORS OF WAR. Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña recounts the nearly 5-month war in Marawi City as he delivers the homily on November 22, 2017, dubbed as 'Red Wednesday' to support persecuted Christians worldwide. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

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.”

RED WEDNESDAY. Catholics pray in front of the Manila Cathedral on Red Wednesday, a day to remember persecuted Christians around the world, an initiative of the Catholic charity organization Aid to the Church in Need. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

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.

BLOOD OF MARTYRS. The Manila Cathedral is bathed in red on November 22, 2017, as Filipinos mark 'Red Wednesday' for persecuted Christians around the world. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

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

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.