By Madeleine Teahan
What may well be the first shrine in Europe dedicated to persecuted Christians will be blessed today in central London, UK.
The Shrine of Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians, will be dedicated at 6:30 p.m. local time on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Ordinariate Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, which is situated in the famous district of Soho.
Father Benedict Kiely, who is a long-standing advocate of persecuted Christians around the world, told Catholic News Agency in an email exchange on Sept. 6 that the shrine was “most certainly the first shrine in Europe dedicated to Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians, and will be a real place of prayer for the persecuted Church.”
Kiely, who orchestrated the establishment of the shrine, said: “I hope the shrine will become a focus of prayer in the heart of London — so close to Piccadilly Circus — for everyone who comes from a place where the Church is persecuted, to come and pray — Nigerians, Syrians, Indians, Iraqis — and so many more.”
“Also, I hope we who are in the West will come and pray regularly for our brethren and get courage and strength for our own Christian witness and for whatever trials we might face in remaining faithful. I truly believe this shrine is desperately needed because the persecution of the Church is barely mentioned in the mainstream media and, it has to be said, does not often appear to be much of a priority even in the Church itself.”
The shrine features an icon of Our Lady with the words “Mother of the Persecuted” written in Aramaic, which was the language of Jesus and is still spoken in parts of Syria and Iraq. The icon was painted by Sister Souraya, a Lebanese Melkite nun.
Kiely told CNA that his call to raise awareness about the plight of persecuted Christians ignited in 2014.
“I was a parish priest in Stowe, Vermont … when I heard that because of ISIS, there would be no Mass in Mosul, Iraq, for the first time in nearly 2,000 years,” he explained. “Mosul is Nineveh, where Jonah’s tomb is, or was — ISIS blew it up. I felt impelled to do something. Starting with producing items with the Arabic “N” or “Nun,” which ISIS — and Islam — has marked Christians for centuries, I then went to Iraq for the first time in early 2015 and felt more and more called to devote my priestly ministry and life to aid and advocacy for the persecuted Church.”
The Ordinariate priest then established the charity Nasarean.org in 2016, a charity that helps Middle Eastern Christians remain in their home countries. He has since visited Iraq eight times, as well as Syria and Lebanon.
In 2019 he was incardinated in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham to perform his particular ministry full time.
According to Kiely, there are three main things Catholics can do to support their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide. He told CNA: “The first is, obviously, prayer — hence the shrine. But prayer leads to action — so then aid and advocacy. Aid — helping charities and organizations that are doing good works to help the persecuted — and advocacy, speaking up with politicians, etc., to advocate for the defense of Christians.”
“A perfect example would be for members of the Nigerian diaspora in Britain to lobby heavily the new British prime minister about the dreadful slaughter of Christians in Nigeria, which is almost genocidal in the north of the country. If politicians hear from their constituents they will be forced to act — if they never hear, no wonder the persecution of Christians is so little reported. Ultimately, it’s about being part of the Body of Christ: when one suffers, all suffer.”
The first shrine for persecuted Christians was established at St. Michael’s Church in New York City, and Kiely told CNA that along with the latest addition in London: “I’m determined to have many shrines — but always with the blessing of the local bishop, ideally in his cathedral or designated church. This one in London is in the ordinariate’s ‘Mother Church,’ blessed by the ordinary, Msgr. Keith Newton.”