8 Concrete ways parishes can support persecuted Christians
From a small gesture you can do single-handedly, to something that will take some networking, these are ways we can help our brothers and sisters in so much need.
A 2019 report from the British government claims that 80% of people persecuted for their religion throughout the world are Christians. In the Middle East and North Africa, just a century ago, 20% of the population was Christian. Today Christians number less than 4% of the population of the same region.As we open a new year and a new decade (depending on which side of that argument you fall on), we would do well to call to mind the sufferings of Christian communities throughout the world.
But what can we do? Here are some ideas for our local communities.
The best and most important expression of solidarity with persecuted Christians throughout the world is prayer. As Pope Francis has said in his January prayer intention, “In a divided and fragmented world, I want to invite all believers, and also all people of good will, to reconciliation and fraternity. Our faith leads us to spread the values of peace and mutual understanding, of the common good. We pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world.”
To promote prayers for peace, parishes can easily make holy cards or include prayers in bulletins, which parishioners can keep on refrigerators and bedside tables. One such template is provided here by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Catholic news sites like Aleteia.org work hard to regularly report on suffering Christian communities. By simply reading international news and becoming more informed about world events, you can become a source of information for family and friends. Sharing posts on social media about the persecution of Christians is a valuable way you can raise awareness in your own networks about the adversity our brothers and sisters in Christ are facing throughout the world.
3) DONATE MONEY
I know that no pastor in his right mind eagerly looks forward to more fundraising projects, but the needs of Christian communities throughout the world are very great. Wine and cheese nights, second collections, dinners, and more could easily be held to support worthy charities that do extraordinary things to provide direct services for Christians in need.
The Knights of Columbus have built an incredible network through their Christians at Risk efforts to provide immediate food and medical assistance. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) hosts an abundance of projects to build up the church as well as provide humanitarian aid. Aid to the Church in Need is helping Christians in some of the most volatile areas. You’ll occasionally find reports provided by their staff here at Aleteia. Finally, the St. Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy announces the Gospel values of compassion and charity animated by acts of mercy. These charities are in great need of support as Christians begin to rebuild in countries like Iraq in the wake of ISIS.
Partner with local Catholic communities to host cultural celebrations. Many Marionite, Melkite, and Chaldean communities throw vibrant celebrations to honor their patron saints. Offer to contribute to the festivals hosted by these communities or organize similar events in your own community. Encountering cultural traditions (music, food, dancing, prayer, patron saints) is a critical way to preserve and share the heritage of persecuted Christian communities.
One way to connect with persecuted Christians is to hear their stories. The University of Notre Dame and the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University have produced a 26-minute film exposing the pain of Christian communities throughout the world, titled Under Caesar’s Sword. Focusing particularly on the Christian response to persecution, the documentary can be streamed for free from the project’s website.
The same research grant that funded the documentary film Under Caesar’s Sword has produced an impressive seven-session study program. Built to animate discussion, the “We Respond” program combines impressive scholarly research with the invitation to deepen one’s personal faith in order to promote reflection and action alike concerning the harsh reality of Christian persecution. With adult and teen study guides, including facilitator’s manuals, the “We Respond” series is a ready package for any parish or Christian community.
Political action is a critical part of the Christian response to suffering. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has built an action center that can reliably be used to raise awareness and animate Catholic action as issues arise.
An evening vigil to memorialize an attack can be a powerful witness. Light candles in a darkened church, meditate on the psalms, and intercede for suffering communities throughout the globe. (One parish was unable to participate in the #RedWednesday initiative linked above, so they surrounded the monstrance with red candles, to do what they could with the possibilities they had.)
Parishes could also plan a monthly holy hour to pray for Christians in particular countries. One template for a holy hour is available here. Alternatively, distribute rosaries and encourage parishioners to pray a weekly Rosary for persecuted Christians.