London, England, Sep 8, 2023 / 03:00 am (CNA).
On the eve of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a leading advocate for the persecuted Church said that awareness of religious persecution in the Western world is growing, thanks to the emergence of four new shrines dedicated to persecuted Christians in the last five years.
In an email interview with CNA on Sept. 7, Father Benedict Kiely, who founded Nasarean.org and is the force behind the shrines that all depict Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians, said the fruits of the shrines are “manifold.”
“To have four shrines now, in three different countries [with] a focus on prayer for the persecuted in countries like Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, people are deeply moved that the shrines exist and people are praying for them,” he said. “It is educating people in the West that persecution exists and prayer is essential.”
The world’s first shrine to persecuted Christians was dedicated at St. Michael’s Church in New York City in 2018. It features an icon depicting the Blessed Mother dressed as a traditional Iraqi bride — Our Lady of Aradin (Eden) — which was created by an Iraqi Christian named Mouthana Butres, an iconographer and refugee who fled the Islamic State.
The second shrine was dedicated at the Ordinariate Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, in London, a year ago today, featuring an icon of Our Lady with the words “Mother of the Persecuted” written in Aramaic. The icon was painted by Sister Souraya, a Syrian nun of the Basilian order.
A third shrine emerged in October 2022 at St. John the Guardian of Our Lady in Clinton, Massachusetts. This particular icon of the Blessed Mother was painted by Deacon Ebrahim Lallo, a Syriac Catholic, who was forced out of his town of Bartella, Iraq, by ISIS in 2014.
Then on July 22 of this year, Christians in Sweden dedicated the world’s fourth shrine of Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians, at the Holy Martyrs Syriac Catholic Church in Kista, Northern Stockholm. The shrine takes the form of an icon of Mary, Mother of the Persecuted, also painted by Sister Souraya.
Cardinal Anders Arborelius joined Father Benedict Kiely and the parish priest of the Stockholm Church-Holy Martyrs Syriac Catholic Church in Kista, Northern Stockholm, Sweden, July 22, 2023. Photo courtesy of Father Benedict Kiely
Kiely told CNA that the Church in Sweden came to dedicate its own shrine for a number of reasons. “Sweden has a large diaspora of Middle East Christians — from Iraq, Syria, Palestine. So obviously a good spot!” he said. “It also came to be through the Catholic composer (and Swedish American) Paul Jernberg, who wrote the first Mass for Persecuted Christians, which was performed at another shrine blessing in Clinton, Massachusetts. He is a friend of Cardinal [Anders] Arborelius, who happily agreed to [dedicate] the fourth shrine. It was a wonderful ceremony in the Syriac Catholic Church, Stockholm, and I’ve been told the shrine is a constant focus of prayer.”
When asked if any more shrines of a similar nature are expected to be dedicated in the near future, Kiely, told CNA he is very hopeful. “We have one or two possibilities at the moment, but I am eager to hear from any bishop who wishes to have one. The request and blessing of the bishop is essential!” he said.
Cardinal Anders Arborelius is joined by other prelates for the dedication of the Marian shrine for persecuted Christians at the Stockholm Church-Holy Martyrs Syriac Catholic Church in Stockholm, Sweden, July 22, 2023. Photo courtesy of Father Benedict Kiely
Reflecting on the parts of the world where Christians are most at risk currently, Kiely told CNA that throughout Nigeria and much of Africa persecution is intense, adding: “We are [also] very worried about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where 120,000 Christian Armenians are being starved to death, as well as the Middle East [where] the status of Christians is that of second-class citizens.”