For the needs of suffering and persecuted Christians of the Middle East
"Always”, says St Peter, “be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you" (1Pet 3.15). True glory and joy are found in an eternal life prepared for all who live in, and for, love and peace.
As I settle down to write to you (16 Feb), an email from a brother bishop gives confirmation of yet more brutal murders of Christians, this time young Coptic Christians in Libya at the hands of Daesh (IS). Theirs are the most recent deaths in a mounting and clear atmosphere in diverse places around the world where suffering and persecution are inflicted on those who follow Christ, who have heard and obeyed Christ’s command to live in, and for, love and peace. Then suddenly another email arrives, from elsewhere in the same region: “We are so alarmed about what is happening around us with barbarism reaching the point of no return!” Reaching no return. And, of course, as Christians we cannot be mindful of the wounds being inflicted on the body of Christ without also knowing the closeness of the Church, a very precious closeness, to all the aid workers, journalists, medical staff, and others whose lives and deaths are also being made the focus of brutal pain and dehumanizing terror. Nor can we forget Jesus’s command, ‘Pray for people who persecute you!’ (Matt 5.44)
For Christians, the suffering and persecution of our fellow Christians is something that we cannot help but recall every single time we celebrate and receive the Body of the Lord. ‘When one member suffers, all suffer with it.’ (1Cor 12.26) At every Eucharist we hear their cry, we touch their wounds, we feel their plight and experience their loss. This is the reality of the Risen Body we share: our body. Our own General Synod heard testimony of this reality when it welcomed Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil (northern Iraq) just last week.
And how shall we respond? with prayer, daily prayer, and with solidarity and with support. And that is why I have chosen this year to focus the Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Lent Appeal on the pressing and mounting needs of the persecuted Church, especially in the Middle East. There are relatively few Anglicans in that particular region: but what popes and others have called ‘the ecumenism of martyrdom’ has given the Christians new depths of mutual solidarity and communion in faith. They are in this defining adversity together.
I want to appeal to you, as individuals and as parishes, to take this cause seriously to heart, in your prayers, in your imaginations, and in your practical support and giving. If possible, even at this late stage in preparation for Lent (which begins on Wednesday), make this appeal the Focus of your parish and your personal Lenten almsgiving. Long experience of the work of Aid to the Church in Need (www.acnuk.org) , a Catholic aid agency, who in the Middle East work direct with the larger local churches like Archbishop Warda’s Chaldean Catholic Church, has led me to highlight their work, and channel any funds we gather through them. The collections from all this year’s Chrism Masses will go into our response too.
The Ebbsfleet parishes are used to feeling a real solidarity with one another; let us extend that gift to our brothers and sisters, displaced and threatened, in the Middle East.
With every blessing:
+ Jonathan Ebbsfleet
Hill House, Caversham
You can give, individually, or as a parish at the end of Lent, via the Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Mission Fund: The Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Mission Fund Hill House, Tree Tops, The Mount, Caversham, Reading, RG4 7RE BACS to: The Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s Mission Fund, Barclays Bank Account No: 30312991 — Sort Code: 20-01-09 Please give ‘Lent Appeal’ as the reference.