SCOTLAND: Carfin pilgrims seek Mary's prayers for the persecuted
By John Newton
20 June 2012
Pilgrims have gathered at Scotland’s national Marian shrine to hear about the persecuted Church – and pray for their suffering brothers and sisters.
More than 130 pilgrims braved the rain to attend Aid to the Church in Need’s Pilgrimage of Witness and Faith at Carfin Grotto, Motherwell. on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Saturday 16 June.
Despite the bad weather, pilgrims travelled from Glasgow, Stirling, Alloa, Edinburgh, Ayr, Whithorn and as far away as London to attend the event, which began with a rosary procession and continued with Mass followed by talks.
The main speaker was Father Michael Shields from Magadan in Siberia, Russia, a region still scarred by memories of Soviet gulag prison camps.
Father Shields told stories of survivors, describing how they had witnessed to their faith amid great hardship.
He said: “I saw faith in the men and women who had suffered in the gulags, and that’s when I realised the cross of Christ was so powerful. You know more about the Lord through the cross and they taught me so much.”
Afterwards, Aid to the Church in Need’s UK director Neville Kyrke-Smith paid tribute to Father Shields’ work, which also includes pro-life outreach to pregnant women, mothers and children in a region with high abortion rates.
Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “Supporting Father Michael’s important pastoral work is a great privilege for us, sustaining the proclamation of the hope of the Christian Gospel itself in the forgotten frozen wastelands of the old gulag prison camps.”
Jack Kavanagh and Connie Scanlon – who act as Aid to the Church in Need’s parish representatives in Ayrshire – said they felt uplifted by Father Shields’ words.
Also speaking on the day were Mr Kyrke-Smith, Aid to the Church in Need Scottish Secretary Dr John Watts and Pakistani Christian refugee Alphonse Francis.
Mr Francis described fleeing to Scotland with his wife and four children in 2003 following persecution from extremists.
He now lives in East Kilbride working to help educate Christian children in Pakistan.
He said: “Churches, properties and houses, even living Christians are burnt. The majority are working low class jobs, such as cleaning and housemaids.
“They are stuck in a cycle of poverty and hatred but remain strong in faith.”
In his speech, Dr Watts also spoke about the problems facing Christians in Pakistan, while Mr Kyrke-Smith reported back from his trip to Lebanon earlier this month.
Mr Kyrke-Smith described hearing from religious communities working in Syria. He told pilgrims: “They said: ‘Please do not forget us. We need you at Aid to the Church in Need to stand by us in solidarity, prayer and support.’”
He added: “As in many parts of the world the Catholics are bridge-builders – in Lebanon between Sunni and Shia, as well as with the Druze. But when any conflict begins, the bridges are targeted and blown up.
“Please pray and act to sustain Christians in theMiddle East.”
The day, which was organised by Lorraine McMahon, Aid to the Church in Need’s head of operations in Scotland, concluded with the Way of the Cross for the persecuted Church, led by Father Shields.
Pupils from Cardinal Newman High School, Lanarkshire, read the meditations for the Way of the Cross, while stewarding for the day was organised by the Knights of St Columba.