Victims of violence against Christians were invited to share their testimonies in Rome
On February 24th, 2018, the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need organized an exceptional event in Rome, to raise awareness of the persecutions against Christians around the world. For the occasion, the immediate victims of this violence were invited to share their testimonies.
The girl at the platform speaks quickly. She speaks Urdu, her native language. The only one she knows. But a word that might be recognizable by everyone often comes up in her speech: “mama,” “mom” … Her mother, whom she speaks of with emotion, is Asia Bibi, the woman who has been imprisoned for many years in Pakistan in the name of the anti-blasphemy laws against Islam. Asia Bibi did not even commit the “crime” attributed to her. What was her sin, then? Drinking from the same glass as her Muslim colleagues. And being a Christian.
On two occasions Pakistani judges decided that Bibi’s actions merited the death penalty. Now Supreme Court judges do not dare to speak in the face of terrorist violence threatened by Islamist groups. A minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, has already died for openly supporting Asia Bibi. He too was a Christian. A martyr.
Eisham Ashiq continues her speech. But she can’t help but burst into tears. The audience follows, as they listen to the translator: The girl was sharing her last memory of her mother while still out of prison, when the police came to arrest her. Then nine years old, she saw Asia Bibi being dragged and almost raped.
“It’s a pain I can’t forget,” Eisham Ashiq barely uttered. Her father continues: Asia Bibi’s suffering, he says, would stop if she renounced her faith and married a Muslim. But she does not want to give up either Jesus Christ or her family.
In Rome, just behind the platform where Asia Bibi’s family speaks, the Colosseum has been lit up in red. It’s an initiative of the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need to raise awareness of the persecution that still afflicts so many Christians in so many parts of the world. 2,000 years after being the stage par excellence of Christian martyrdom, the Colosseum now symbolically takes on the color of their blood.
Another victim of anti-Christian persecution was invited to share her story. It’s Rebbeca Bitrus, a 28-year-old Nigerian kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Suffering is engraved in her face. And for good reason. Her story is terrible, too. Her captors also wanted to convert her to Islam. She refused. The rosary she quietly managed to keep in her pocket was her only ally.
But one day, her captors decided they have had enough. They took her one-year-old boy and threw him into the river, Rebecca says, while tears run down her face. The young woman is gang-raped for a long time. As a result, she gets pregnant and gives birth to a baby boy. Despite the terrible circumstances, she loves him and when she finally manages to escape, she takes her child with her.
Too many Christians today continually offer “the testimony of shed blood,” worries Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis’ right hand. And yet, they simply ask to be able to believe in the Gospel, a “message of love and forgiveness” offered by a tender and merciful Lord. But the ideologies prefer “to suppress rather than to integrate those who seemingly put into question some certainties,” condemns the high prelate.
For Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament who was also present at this event, religion is not only a private matter. Everyone must have the opportunity to freely profess his own. And as Europe guarantees this freedom to all, he believes, it is legitimate to ask that it applies throughout the world. The United Nations must recognize the genocide of Eastern Christians, as the European Parliament already has.
After the speeches, at the end of the evening, ten flying lanterns were thrown into the sky. Ten lanterns for ten Christians who died in recent years for their faith. Among them, Iraqi priests, an Italian girl, missionaries. But also Father Jacques Hamel, assassinated in France by Islamists as he celebrated Mass.
The lanterns carry their bright yellow light to Heaven. Through them, we see the soul of these martyrs reach the Father. On the ground, the Colosseum remains clad in their radiant blood.