Three edifices in Italy, Syria, and Iraq were bathed in red signifying the blood of martyrs and the threat of Christian persecution that is still ongoing.
On Saturday, February 24 at 6:00 p.m., the Coliseum in Rome as well as significant buildings in Mosul and Aleppo will be lit up in red in memory of the martyrs of our era
Aid to the Church in Need (AIN) announced on February 19, 2018.
“So that the world might open its eyes” about the persecutions against Christians in the world, the Italian branch of AIN organized, at the very place of the martyrdom of the first Christians, this evening commemorating the blood that is shed because of hatred for the faith. At 6:00 p.m. in Rome the Coliseum became blood red. At that same moment, in Syria, the Maronite Cathedral of Saint Elias in the city of Aleppo and Saint Paul Church in the Iraqi city of Mosul were also lit up in red. During the evening a video link connected the three cities.
Present in the Italian capital were Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican, Abp. Nunzio Galantino, Secretary General of the Italian Episcopal Conference, and Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament.
A Testament on Persecution
Under rain in front of the Coliseum, two families persecuted by Islam came to testify to their Christian faith: Eisham Ashiq, daughter of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani woman sentenced to death for a supposed blasphemy against Islam in 2010 and since then imprisoned, and Rebecca Bitrus, a young Nigerian woman taken hostage for two years by the jihadist group Boko Haram. During the evening the faces of Christian victims of persecution were projected onto the façade of the Coliseum. Among them was Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic Pakistani minister assassinated in 2011 for having tried to modify the law on blasphemy and having taken up the defense of Asia Bibi.
Rebecca Bitrus was abducted in Baga, Nigeria, on August 21, 2014, during the attack of militia of Boko Haram preceding the massive offensive and complete occupation of the city by the terrorists on January 3, 2015. Her husband, hidden in the bush, escaped the manhunt and the jihadists’ bullets. After killing all the men whom they had captured, Boko Haram took her and her two sons, aged one and three years, toward Lake Chad. In Kwalleram the hostages became servants of the wives of Boko Haram members.
In Gurva, where there were around 2,000 Boko Haram soldiers, they worked on the farms or cut wood. In Tilma she was sold to a man, and when she refused to give herself to him and to convert to Islam, she received 98 lashes with a whip each day and saw her one-year-old son thrown alive into Lake Chad, where he drowned. Forcibly married to another man, she became pregnant. “The wife of a pastor who had been abducted from Gwoza”, she confided to AIN, “begged me not to commit suicide because of the pregnancy. She already had two children by Boko Haram.”
One day, when most of the Boko Haram fighters were traveling, Rebecca was able to leave and walk for six days toward the Nigerian border. Thanks to a meeting with American and Nigerian soldiers, she found her husband again in the city of Maiduguri.
Despite their terrible sufferings, threats and fear, neither Rebecca Bitrus nor Asia Bibi agreed to deny their Christian faith. The daughter of Asia Bibi confided that her whole family thinks that she will soon be released from prison. They then will have to leave Pakistan immediately, because their safety cannot be guaranteed. The family calls on the Pakistani president to grant her clemency. – On March 6 the agency Fides announced that Punjab and the Lahore District in Pakistan have filed a record number of cases of alleged blasphemies during the last three decades.
An Ongoing Problem
At the end of the evening on February 24, ten Chinese lanterns soared into the sky in honor of ten Christians who died for their faith, Iraqi priests, Italian missionaries and the Frenchman Jacques Hamel, who was assassinated in 2016 by two young Islamists in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, while he was celebrating Mass.
Active in 150 countries affected by religious persecution or destitution, Aid to the Church in Need publishes every other year a Report on Religious Liberty in the World.
The 2016 Report denounces a general worsening of the situation, indicated 38 countries where there have been significant violations resulting either from persecution or from discrimination. Among them are North Korea, Saudi Arabia, but also Nigeria, China, Eritrea and Iraq.