My heart goes out to all who this day, whatever their beliefs, are being persecuted on religious grounds. And at this time of Easter, when our minds are recalled to the suffering of Our Lord two thousand years ago, we think especially of those Christians who are suffering for their faith in many places around the world. I want to assure them that they are not forgotten and that they are in our prayers.
Over the years, I have met many who have had to flee for their faith and for their life – or have somehow endured the terrifying consequences of remaining in their country – and I have been so deeply moved, and humbled, by their truly remarkable courage and by their selfless capacity for forgiveness, despite all that they have suffered.
I have also heard that in the darkness there are small shafts of light, signs of Resurrection and of hope that, slowly but surely, Christians who have had to flee from their homelands are beginning to return and to rebuild their shattered homes.
Biblical lands, such as Syria and modern Iraq, were not always places of strife between people of different faiths. For centuries, in many countries, the three great Abrahamic faiths have lived side by side as neighbours and as friends. For example, I have heard how, in Lebanon, Muslims join with Christians at the Shrine of our Lady of Lebanon to honour her together. I know, too, of senior Muftis who believe in the essential importance of the Christian faith to maintaining the balance of the Middle East.
At Easter, as we recall the suffering of Our Lord, we also remember Mary his mother and the torment of grief she endured. Mary occupies a unique and elevated position in both Christianity and Islam. She is the mother of Our Lord and exalted in the Q’uran.
All three Abrahamic faiths have known and continue to know the bitterness of persecution when religion has fallen into the barbaric grip of those who distort and misrepresent faith.
This Easter I want to salute the fortitude of all those who, whatever their faith, are persecuted for remaining faithful to the true essence of their beliefs. I admire, and greatly respect, all those of you who find it in your hearts to pray for those who persecute you and, following the example of Christ, seek forgiveness for your enemies.
Jesus summarizes the Ten Commandments into two requirements – that we should love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. It is, therefore, my special prayer this Eastertide that they will be your guide and your inspiration.