Westminster Cathedral to host religious freedom rally

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Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt, Credit: ACN.

At an upcoming “Night of Witness” event at Westminster Cathedral, leading Catholic bishops will call for action to protect religious freedom in countries where persecution threatens the survival of Christianity.

Stephen Anjum, a Pakistani who fled with his family to the United Kingdom, plans to attend the event. He has firsthand experience of persecution.

“People in the U.K. and elsewhere in the West are simply not aware of the scale of the problems that we face in my country,” he told Aid to the Church in Need.

Extremists had alleged that Anjum’s son had insulted Islam’s Prophet Mohammed and they shot at Anjum’s wife.

“We need major moral support so that people in my country can be safe from violence and intimidation,” he said.

The May 17 event intends to help Christians like Anjum. The event will involve music, dance, video and prayer.

It will begin with a 5:30 p.m. Mass at the cathedral celebrated by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton. He chairs the Department of International Affairs for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

After Mass, in the cathedral piazza there will be a rally for religious freedom. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster will welcome Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan and Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt.

They and Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali, an interfaith expert originally from Pakistan, will address attendees. Planning to attend the event is Archbishop emeritus of Southwark Kevin McDonald, chairman of the bishops’ conference committee for relations with other religions.

“Night of Witness” performers include the Catholic pop group ooberfuse, singer Helen Munt, the West End Gospel Choir, Urdu-language singer and musician Hammad Baily, the Eliot Smith Dance Company, and Catholic performance poet Sarah de Nordwall, who is also the event’s emcee.

The event will return to Westminster Cathedral for a prayer vigil for the suffering Church. Readings and music will commemorate the lives of those killed for their faith, including Pakistan religious freedom advocate Shahbaz Bhatti, Indian priest Fr. Mernard Digal and Fr. Ragheed Gami of Iraq.

At least 20 Christians of Pakistani origin now living in Lancashire will take part in the event, including Vincent Masih.

“People think persecution is happening a long way away and there is nothing they can do about it but that is not the case. We are going out of our way to be a sign of hope for those who suffer today,” said Masih, whose family fled Pakistan in the 1960s.

On May 17 Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic pastoral charity, is launching a report “Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom” to draw attention to the importance of combating religious persecution. The report chronicles violent and intimidating acts in many of the countries that worst offend against religious freedom.

“Those Christians facing sustained violence, especially in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, show an extraordinary courage that should serve as an inspiration to those of us who do not face those dangers but are still called upon to give a witness to our faith,” Bishop Lang said in the report’s foreword.

“We are called to enter more deeply into solidarity with those who suffer for the Church and to do so through prayer, practical support and by raising our voices about this often-hidden crisis.”

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