For the 10th year in succession the French national office of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be organising a prayer vigil in memory of the modern Christian martyrs, including the priests and religious murdered in recent years for their fidelity to Christ. This “Night of Witness” (La Nuit des Témoins) will be held in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, next Friday 16 March, and will be led by Auxiliary Bishop Eric Marie Mills-Beaufort of Paris.
During the vigil, three witnesses invited by ACN will describe the difficult situation facing Christians in their home countries, respectively Mexico, Egypt and Algeria.
Bishop Ramón Castro of Cuernavaca in Mexico will speak about the suffering in his country. The Catholic Church in Mexico is in the vanguard of the opposition to drugs trafficking. This commitment has brought it constant threats and acts of intimidation, and no fewer than 55 priests have been murdered since 1990.
For his part, Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan of Assiut in Egypt will speak about the strength of faith of the Coptic Christians. Some 80% of all the Christians in the Middle East are Egyptians, and this makes them prime targets for the Islamists. Yet despite the many assaults and murders, the Christians are determined to stay on in their native land and fulfil their mission as “peace builders”.
Finally, Father Paul-Élie Cheknoun, a religious priest of the Missionary Fraternity of John Paul II, will tell his remarkable story. A convert from Islam to Christianity, this young priest is today fulfilling an important mission, namely the spiritual support of Christian converts in Algeria. It is by no means an easy mission in a country that is 99% Muslim and where “neither the cross nor the soutane is tolerated in public”.
The director of the French national office of ACN, Marc Fromager, stresses the importance of this initiative. “We wish to honour the ‘martyrs’ of our times and we feel that remembering them once a year is the very minimum we can do for them”, he says. At the same time he hopes that this event will “strengthen the faith of those participating” and that the witness of those living on the frontline “will help to remind us how to follow Christ, despite the difficulties”.
Referring to the sense of social and political disillusionment that is currently being felt in so many countries of the world, Marc Fromager insists, “This Night of Witness is a response to these challenges. Our aim is to present living witnesses who can enrich our own faith by their personal experience of faith and forgiveness.”
The vigil even attracts nonbelievers. Not only by the beauty of the music and the beautiful setting, but because “the Night of Witness presents accurate figures. It offers a true assessment of the state of the world and of the harsh reality faced by believers in many countries. It is hard to remain insensitive after having heard them”, says Mark Fromager, adding, “After three years experience of this, we are quite certain that no one emerges unmoved from this Night of Witness.”
Since it was first held in the year 2008 this event has been staged in 29 different cities, and a total of 31 witnesses have given personal testimony of their experience of persecution or the violation of their religious freedom in their respective countries, to a total audience of over 25,000 participants.
This year, in addition to Paris, the “Night of Witness” will be commemorated in other towns and cities of France, Luxembourg and Italy. And inspired by this initiative, other national offices of ACN – such as Spain, the Netherlands, the Philippines and South Korea – will be organising similar events during the remainder of the year.
The Night of Witness will take place in Paris on Friday 16 March, after having previously been held in Rouen, on 14 March and La Roche sur Yon on 15 March. The final two events will take place in Luxembourg, on 18 March and Rome on 19 March.