The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral will be all be lit up red this evening to remember those who are persecuted or killed for their beliefs. The #RedWednesday campaign is an initiative of Aid to the Church in Need, and aims “to honour those who have suffered because of their religion, and stand in solidarity with millions of people, targeted for their beliefs and living in fear”. Many other churches, synagogues and mosques are also being lit up red to highlight the unprecedented wave of religious persecution sweeping the world, and the fact that three quarters of the world’s population live in countries which restrict freedom of religion, either with draconian blasphemy laws or the intimidation and repression of minorities. According to Open Doors annual World Watch report, “Christians are being persecuted in more countries and in more ways than EVER before”.
Christians are being systematically cleansed from the Middle East: Christianity is on the verge of being extinguished from the lands of its birth. Those who suffer or lay down their lives for the Christian faith have always been specially honoured by the Church, but this is the first time that Parliament has turned to blood in solidarity with the witness of the saints. In the spirit of universal ecumenism, they honour, too, the courage and sacrifice of all who suffer and die for their sincerely-held beliefs. We cannot quibble over the spiritual sanctity to those who perish in doctrinal error: martyrdom transcends denominations, religions and beliefs. It is the greatest sacrifice.
But let’s not be content with making blood-red altars or erecting illuminated shrines over the memories of martyrs: we have too many cults of popular devotion; a whole industry of ribbons and red-letter days to inspire remembrance or induce guilt. There is no greater or more crucial freedom than that of religion or belief. Living with faith should not cost you your life. We must contend earnestly for this freedom – on Red Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday… even if it should cost us our lives.