Night of Witness
Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt lights a candle at the Vigil of Light during Aid to the Church in Need's Night of Witness
17 May 2012 17:30
Listen to coverage of the Night of Witness on BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme (coverage begins at 25' 45")
The plight of Christians persecuted for their faith was the focus of prayer, song and reflection as hundreds gathered at Westminster Cathedral to stand up for faith and freedom at our first-ever Night of Witness.
Bishops from the UK and overseas led the event, with Christians from countries marked by persecution playing central roles in raising awareness of ongoing acts of religious oppression.
The Night of Witness began with more than 1,000 people filling Westminster Cathedral for a Mass highlighting the importance of religious freedom, celebrated by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chairman of the international affairs department of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Listen to what participants thought about the Night of Witness and why they were standing up for religious freedom
Rally for Religious Freedom
As they left the cathedral, crowds gathered on the piazza for our outdoor Rally for Religious Freedom. During the rally, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster welcomed our special guests Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan, and Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt.
The Eliot Smith Dance Company perform new work Persecuted and Forgotten
Helen Munt sings her song 'I'm right here'
Bishop Joseph Coutts of Pakistan and Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Egypt give a blessing to people in the piazza
Cherrie from ooberfuse performing at the Night of Witness
Anglican Bishop Michael Nazir Ali addresses the crowd in the piazza
With Catholic performance poet Sarah de Nordwall acting as MC, the outdoor event included performances by the West End Gospel Choir, Catholic pop group ooberfuse, and singers Helen Munt and Hammad Baily. One of the highlights of the rally was a performance by the Eliot Smith Dance Company of new piece Persecuted and Forgotten, which was choreographed especially for the Night of Witness and inspired by Aid to the Church in Need's report on religious freedom of the same name.
There were also short films about the persecuted Church, highlighting cases of persecution in some of the key countries where Aid to the Church in Need works. Spontaneous applause broke out on the piazza when a video clip was shown of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's assassinated Federal Minister for Minorities, proclaiming "I know the meaning of cross... And I am willing to die to defend my people."
New Aid to the Church in Need report launched
The themes of religious freedom, persecution and its causes are developed in Aid to the Church in Need ’s latest publication Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom which was launched at the event, complete with an introduction by leading UK media expert Dr Austen Ivereigh, co-founder of Catholic Voices. Request or download your copy of Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom
The rally ended in joyous mood as the West End Gospel Choir sang 'Joyful, Joyful' while crowds processed back into the cathedral led by a large wooden cross carried by Pakistani Christians from Nelson in Lancashire and Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association.
Vigil of Light
Back inside the cathedral, the mood became reflective and reverential as Fr Martin Edwards, Aid to the Church in Need's UK ecclesiastical assistant, led our Vigil of Light. The Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, Holland Park, London, led the music, singing Tota Pulchra Es Maria, by Anton Bruckner, while organist Matthew Burgess played music by Olivier Messiaen.
During the vigil, which was centred around the Mysteries of Light of the Rosary, Catholics with close links to countries where the faithful are persecuted read accounts of the deaths of modern-day martyrs in Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, India and Nigeria. Photos of the martyrs were displayed in the cathedral as a candle was lit in front of each one.
Involved in the liturgy were Dr Suha Rassam, of the charity Iraqi Christians in Need, Nigerian priest Fr Mark Odion, parish priest of Beckenham Hill, south-east London, UK Nigerian chaplain Fr Richard Offong, Indian priests Fr Francisco Rosario and Fr Thomas Parayadyil and Westminster diocese Ethiopian chaplain Fr Petros Gebremichael.
Archbishop Coutts and Bishop Zakaria addressed the congregation during the vigil.
Listen to Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Pakistan's address during the Vigil of Light
Listen to Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Egypt's address during the Vigil of Light
At the close of the service, Aid to the Church in Need's UK director, Neville Kyrke-Smith, told supporters: “As Fr Werenfried van Straaten, our founder, said, we are called to ‘dry the tears of the abandoned Jesus on the crosses of this century’.
“Through your charity – Aid to the Church in Need – you have done this, heart to heart with the suffering Church.”