Bishop Mark Hagemoen was one of the leaders who gathered to pray for persecuted Christians on Red Wednesday
The front of Holy Covenant Evangelical Orthodox Church on Alexandra Avenue in Saskatoon was bathed in red light Nov. 22, 2023, for Red Wednesday, a day of prayer, awareness, and advocacy about the persecution of Christians.
Inside, an ecumenical gathering featured prayers, information and reflections on the plight of followers of Christ who face persecution, discrimination, violence, and death because of their faith.
Holy Covenant Evangelical Orthodox Church in Saskatoon on Red Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)
Red Wednesday is an initiative of Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic aid organization founded in 1947, and recognized as a Pontifical Foundation since 2011.
The Red Wednesday event began in 2016 in the United Kingdom, with a number of high-profile buildings bathed in red light to bring awareness to the issue of Christian persecution, said Myron Rogal, who emceed the Saskatoon event. “Red, of course, is the colour of the blood of martyrs.”
Myron Rogal, coordinator of Justice and Peace in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)
Rogal, who coordinates the Office of Justice and Peace in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, said that while religious freedom is a reality in Canada, that is not the reality for an estimated 327 million Christians who live in countries where they are persecuted, excluded, and attacked for their faith.
“It is estimated that 75 percent of all acts of violence for religious reasons are perpetrated against Christians,” he said. “Instead of the situation getting better, it is getting worse. In 47 countries since 2021 the situation has worsened.”
“We gather together tonight in a spirit of solidarity,” Rogal said.
The Red Wednesday event began with a welcome from Evangelical Orthodox Bishop Jakob Palm, who also provided a reflection on the ecumenism of martyrdom.
Bishop Jakob Palm of Holy Covenant Evangelical Orthodox Church. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)
“The way in and to unity in the Church really is the way of suffering,” he said. “The witness of the church and its growth is and has been watered by the blood of the martyrs throughout the centuries.”
Those who persecute Christians do not ask which denomination or confession that they belong to – rather they are persecuted simply as followers of Christ, observed Palm.
“Christian unity in such cases is de facto realized in persecution and blood: an ecumenism of martyrdom. To be called Christian ultimately means to be called to the cross.”
The service continued with the proclamation of scripture, hymns, and prayers, as well as testimony from Rubina Bhatti, a Catholic Christian from Pakistan, and Bishop Emeritus Albert Thévenot, MAfr, former missionary and retired bishop of Prince Albert, both of whom are members of the Saskatchewan-based charity Canadian Aid to Persecuted Christians (CAPC).
Rubina Bhatti of Canadian Aid to Persecuted Christians. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)
Christians are at risk in Pakistan, as well as in other countries around the world, such as North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria, and India. Since its inception in 2019, CAPC has been providing legal and survival support to the families suffering minor girls’ abduction and forceful conversion and marriages, victims of blasphemy laws, and refugees fleeing persecution, as well as helping Christians denied aid during natural disasters and the pandemic.
Bhatti described examples of persecution and violence in Pakistan, highlighting the misuse of blasphemy laws, and summarizing a number of cases and events, including the mob attack in the Christian community of Jaranwala in August 2023. “Houses and churches were burned.. families displaced… homes looted, vandalized, and set on fire,” because of an accusation of blasphemy, she said.
Bishop Emeritus Albert Thévenot, former misssionary and retired bishop of Prince Albert diocese. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)
Bishop Emeritus Thévenot recalled his time serving in Tanzania, where different faith groups – Christians, Muslims, and traditional African religious — lived in peace and friendship. A group from Sudan came into the community and wanted to change that relationship, but the local Muslim population refused to disrupt the harmony. “In some societies you always have fanatics, who want to go overboard.”
However, in some parts of the world, division, persecution and violence are directed against Christians today – it is not something that only happened long ago, Thévenot said. “It still exists today…while I am taken up with the idea of all these people dying for their faith, do I stay indifferent… or do I feel touched?”
He noted that even North American society is becoming increasingly anti-Christian, with secularism even pushing against the celebration of Christian holidays such as Christmas.
He also described the work of CAPC to provide help and support to Christians in peril “They are not forgotten, and we give witness that Christ is with them always,” he said, also urging action: “not only to talk about them, but to try and find ways to help them: let us be involved in this; let us not be spectators.”
Bishops Palm and Hagemoen lead prayers during the ecumenical service. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)
Roman Catholic Bishop Mark Hagemoen joined Evangelical Orthodox Bishop Jakob Palm in leading prayers before a time of silent prayer and candle lighting.
In closing remarks, Hagemoen said that in the face of the plight and suffering of persecuted Christians, “we come back to the Word of God, which sustains us: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’…God’s grace is so powerful that he can bring light even to the darkness.”
Hagemoen said the challenge is responding to the plight of the persecuted, given the way of the Gospel. “There is no easy answer to this,” the bishop said, calling for a response that is faithful to he way of Jesus Christ who is the Saviour. “It does mean to respond to hate not only with love, but with engagement, and not to give in to indifference.
The celebration concluded with the Lord’s prayer and a blessing.
(Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)