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Father Christopher writes:-

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the last weeks of November wide publicity was given to Black Friday. Less well publicised has been Red Wednesday which was held on 22nd November. It is organised by Aid to the Church in Need together with Christian Solidarity Worldwide and is a day for drawing attention to the persecution of Christians and members of other faiths because of their beliefs. First observed in 2016 it is marked by Christians throughout the world and its colour is a symbol of martyrdom. Cathedrals, churches and public buildings around the world were lit up in blood red to show solidarity with those persecuted for their faith, and in London Westminster Cathedral, Lambeth Palace and the Houses of Parliament, amongst others, were all bathed in red light. A faith and freedom bus toured London and multi-denominational prayers were held in the evening at Westminster Cathedral.

As we prepare to celebrate once more Our Saviour's birth it is easy to take our religious freedom for granted. Everyone should have the right to practise their religion openly and freely. Sadly that is not the case in many parts of the world. We sometimes hear complaints about religious discrimination in this country but for the most part there is little substance to those complaints compared with the sufferings of people elsewhere. The treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the recent attack on the mosque of Sufi Muslims in Egypt illustrate the dangers many people face, sometimes from the state, sometimes from other religious groups. But though it may not be so well publicised Christians face serious persecution for their faith in many countries. The World Watch List of Open Doors highlights fifty countries where persecution of Christians is ranked from extreme through very high to high; nine of the countries are extreme.

In late November the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Russia and at the end of his visit issued a joint declaration with  Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in which they recorded "In many countries of the Middle East and Africa there is persecution of Christians, manifested in mass killings, the barbaric destruction of churches, the desecration of holy sites and the expulsion of millions of people from their homes. Our hearts are pained by the mass exodus of the Christian population from those places where the Good News began to be spread throughout the world. Christians also suffer more subtle forms of discrimination where life is made so difficult that it is easier for them to leave their ancient homeland than to stay".

In the year when the church has been marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation perhaps we should recall that that was a time when Christians persecuted other Christians. The street names of Latimer and Ridley in our next-door parish serve as a perpetual reminder of just two of the Protestant martyrs while Bonfire Night should remind us of the Catholic martyrs in this country who also gave their lives for their beliefs. It is important that we should remember the many hundreds of martyrs to the faith on both sides of the Reformation who died around that time.

Some of you will be travelling over the Christmas period and I hope you travel safely. For those not going away there will be many ways to share with us in the joys of Christmas with the religious freedom that we enjoy - carol singing around the parish, carols by candlelight, the crib and Christingle service, Midnight Mass, and the Mass of the Day on Christmas morning. But as we rejoice at Christmas, let us also remember those unable to openly rejoice with us.

Have a very happy Christmas.

Blessings,

Fr Christopher.

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