By Sarah Mac Donald - 15 August, 2015
Catholic bishops across the world will ring church bells in their dioceses at noon today, the Feast of the Assumption, in solidarity with persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore, who is chair of the Irish bishops’ Council for Justice and Peace, has invited parishes across Ireland to support this important symbolic “moment of solidarity and reflection”.
“Christians are now the world’s most oppressed religious group, facing religious discrimination and persecution in over a hundred countries,” Bishop McAreavey said in a statement on Friday.
He continued, “Each year, thousands of Christians are being tortured and killed because of their faith. Yet the international community has been slow to recognise Christians as victims of religious persecution.”
He described the lack of protest over their treatment as “truly shocking”.
In parts of the Middle East ravaged by conflict Christians have lost everything for their faith. Many have lost their lives. Those who remain face a terrifying and uncertain future, he noted.
He said that on the Feast of the Assumption, “the global silence on the persecution of Christians will be broken by the sound of church bells at midday”.
As Christians throughout the world gather to celebrate Mass on a Holy Day dedicated to Our Lady, it is appropriate that we pause to remember those who are suffering because of their faith.
“Our fellow bishops in Iraq have told Irish bishops how important spiritual solidarity and prayer are to them in their suffering,” the Bishop of Dromore said.
“As Archbishop Petros Mouche of Mosul told us during his visit to Maynooth in June, ‘With so many people praying for us, it reminds us that God cannot forget us’.”
“On the Feast of the Assumption we pray to Our Lady for the protection of vulnerable and displaced populations in the Middle East. We pray for peace and healing for all those who suffer.”
Bishop McAreavey invited every parish in the country to join the ‘Christian Bells’ initiative, by ringing their local church bells for up to fifteen minutes, and thereby expressing solidarity with our fellow Christians suffering in the Middle.
He also urged people to support the initiative on Facebook and on Twitter.
The date of the initiative, August 15, marks the anniversary of the fall of Mosul and the Nineveh plains to Islamic State, when tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians were driven into exile last year.
Catholic churches in six French dioceses will ring their bells at noon today while at least three Swiss dioceses have also joined in the effort, which was launched by Archbishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon.
Separately, Christians in central Syria are increasingly fearful after forces of the Islamic State abducted 230 Christian and Muslim residents of al-Qaryatayn, a local priest has told Aid to the Church in Need.
“Does ISIS intend to negotiate and let the people go free, or does it intend to kill them? We don’t know,” said Father Jihad Youssef.
“Normally they give Christians three options: they pay the Jizya tax, they convert to Islam, or they must leave the place. The last option was evidently not offered, or the Christians would have left,” he said.
“Many people are thinking of leaving their homes, or even leaving the country,” he added, as the Islamic State expands from northeastern Syria to the central part of the nation. “The fear is growing.”
To support the ‘Christian Bells’ on social media see Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ChristiansBells?fref=ts, and on Twitter #ChristianBells.