Faith and Spirituality

Churches turn bloody red to honor ‘our persecuted brothers and sisters’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Churches turn bloody red to honor ‘our persecuted brothers and sisters’

The Manila Cathedral lights up in red to honor persecuted Christians worldwide during the annual observance of Red Wednesday, November 29, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

‘Let us remember that Jesus never promised a life free from difficulties,’ says CBCP secretary general Monsignor Bernardo Pantin on Red Wednesday 2023

MANILA, Philippines – The historic Manila Cathedral, first built in 1581 and rebuilt seven times until 1958, transformed again from reddish white to bloody red as Catholics honored on Wednesday, November 29, “our persecuted brothers and sisters” worldwide.

Mostly wearing red, more than 200 Catholics gathered at the Manila Cathedral for Red Wednesday, an annual observance started by the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in 2015. On Red Wednesday each year, hundreds of the world’s Catholic church buildings are lit in red – the color associated with the blood of martyrs – to honor Christians who suffer for the faith.

Illuminated by reddish-white strobe lights in the first hour of the night, the Manila Cathedral was bathed in bloody red at around 7:10 pm on Wednesday, after an hour-long concelebrated Mass. 

The main presider was Monsignor Bernardo Pantin, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, joined by at least eight priests, including Manila Cathedral rector Monsignor Rolando dela Cruz and vice rector Father Vicente Gabriel Bautista, and ACN Philippines administrator Father Jaime Marquez.

Crypt, Altar, Architecture
BATHED IN RED. A brief prayer service is held outside the Manila Cathedral, bathed in red lights, after a 6 pm Mass on Red Wednesday. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

In his homily, Pantin said many Christians around the world “face persecution for their unwavering commitment to Christ” and “endure hardships, discrimination, violence, and even death because they refuse to renounce their faith.” He hoped that others can draw inspiration from them. 

ACN estimates that about 250 million Christians worldwide “are living in environments in which they are violently persecuted, discriminated against, or prevented from freely practicing their faith.” Many of them live in Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, the leading destination of overseas Filipino workers, where Christianity is banned and only Islam is allowed.

“Let us not take our religious freedom for granted but rather cherish and defend it, standing in solidarity with those who suffer for their faith,” said Pantin.

Adult, Male, Man
RED RITES. Monsignor Bernardo Pantin, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, leads the Red Wednesday rites at the Manila Cathedral. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

“Let us remember that Jesus never promised a life free from difficulties. Instead, he assured of his presence and strength to endure. The trials we face can be opportunities for us to deepen our faith and reliance on God’s grace,” he added.

Pantin also prayed that the persecutors of Christians “may experience conversion of heart and come to recognize the dignity and freedom of every human person, especially the freedom to practice one’s faith without fear.”

Adult, Female, Person
LIGHT. Churchgoers light candles in front of the Manila Cathedral during the Red Wednesday prayer service. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Yashua Caladiao, a 17-year-old seminarian from Our Lady of Guadalupe Minor Seminary in Makati City, said he attended the Red Wednesday Mass to pray especially for Christians who are “killed for faith.” He remembered those in countries where governments restrict Christianity.

“I hope that even if they are experiencing difficulties, they will still endure because it is also for God,” he told Rappler in Filipino.

Person, Face, Head
KIDS TOO. Even children join the Red Wednesday rites for persecuted Christians. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Anne Martin, 57, who went to the Manila Cathedral with her husband, a lay minister, said she was praying for “all persecuted Christians or non-Christians.”

Sister Rose Magoleño, an Ilongga nun from the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM), said it is her annual “devotion” to attend Red Wednesday Mass at the Manila Cathedral. “I believe that we have to be in oneness with those who are persecuted,” said Magoleño, 52, who has been with the RVM congregation – founded by 18th-century nun Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo – for 28 years.

Magoleño’s prayer on Red Wednesday: for Catholics “to stand for our faith no matter what, even though our life is in danger.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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