By Katie Ascough - 29 November, 2019
This week large crowds gathered in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, to celebrate Red Wednesday, an Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Ireland initiative to raise awareness for the millions of persecuted Christians worldwide.
The cathedral was a blaze of red, the colour of martyrdom, with people gathered for a special prayer service to remember Christian martyrs and those who have died for their faith.
During the liturgy, Archbishop Eamon Martin delivered his homily as part of a Liturgy of Witness for Red Wednesday, the high point of ACN Ireland’s Week of Witness. The Week of Witness invites Christians across Ireland to stand in solidarity with and bear witness to the heroic example of our persecuted brothers and sisters in faith across the world.
In his homily Archbishop Martin said that one of the most moving moments of Pope Francis’ visit to Japan last weekend was when he stood at the Martyrs Memorial in Nagasaki. “It is the place where Christians of Japan remember the hundreds of people – sometimes known as the ‘hidden Christians’ – who kept the faith alive in Japan during centuries of persecution. The Japanese martyrs include Saint Paul Miki and his 25 companions who were put to death by crucifixion at the very end of the 16th century – the martyrs included Jesuit and Franciscan priests and religious brothers, but also faithful lay people, young and old, all of them powerfully witnessing to their love of the Lord.
Archbishop Martin referred to this time last year, when he pledged to install a shrine in the cathedral to St Oliver Plunkett, former Archbishop of Armagh, “who was hunted down, imprisoned and gruesomely executed at Tyburn, England, in 1681.”
He said he was delighted that Aid to the Church in Need Ireland has been encouraging a ‘Week of Witness’ surrounding #RedWednesday, saying “[t]he intention is for us not only to reflect on the historical witness of the martyrs, but also to think about how we testify in the present to our faith by being ‘missionary disciples”.
He referred to the 2019 ACN Report launched earlier this week in Ireland, which “shockingly reminds us that martyrdom is not just a phenomenon of the past but continues, and is even increasing, in today’s world. Eighty per cent of all acts of religious persecution around the world today are being committed against Christians; 245 million Christians in more than 95 countries are facing extreme persecution for their faith.” He remembered them all in prayer.
Archbishop Martin went on to speak about the sculptor who created the Saint Oliver Plunkett statue: “When I asked the sculptor Dony Mc Manus to create the Saint Oliver Plunkett’s statue dedicated to the martyrs of ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’, Dony chose to evoke in his work, especially looked at from behind, the posture of Jesus before Pontius Pilate – hands bound, head bowed. Remember the words that Jesus spoke then: ‘I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth.’ That is the calling we all have as Christians – not to be ashamed to bear witness to the truth – to testify to the Gospel of Christ in our daily lives.”
The Archbishop welcomed two young adults, Gerard Breslin and Coleen Gribben, who he said were in the cathedral “to stand with us and to speak of some of the ways in which they chose to witness to their faith, and the challenges they find in doing so.
“As Pope Saint Paul VI said in his 1975 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi on evangelisation in the contemporary world: ‘Modern [people listen] more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses … It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelise the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus – the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.’”
Archbishop Martin reflected on the life of Thérèse of Lisieux who, even though she died at the age of 24 years of age having rarely ventured out of her home or the Carmelite convent where she was enclosed, was declared a patroness of the missions. “Saint Thérèse did so via her ‘little way’ of ‘spiritual childhood’, emphasising that the everyday moments of life can be opportunities for witness.”
The Archbishop conlcuded with the prayer that “this celebration of #RedWednesday and this #WeekOfWitness [may] encourage all of us to courageously stand up for our faith – at home, with our friends, in our schools, workplaces and community, among our family members, companions, neighbours and colleagues.”