New Shrine for Persecuted Christians Inaugurated in Sweden
Since 2018, a series of shrines dedicated to Mary, mother of persecuted Christians, have been established in the United States and Europe to raise awareness among Westerners of the plight of threatened Christian communities around the world.
New York, London, Stockholm ... these cities are among the major poles of Western secularization, where the question of God, and even more so that of the fate of Christians in the world, is often far removed from the concerns of their inhabitants.
They are now united by the same icon, that of Mary, mother of persecuted Christians, whose display transforms churches into shrines of prayer and pilgrimage for Christians suffering for their faith. British priest Father Benedict Kiely became aware of the urgent need to awaken the slumbering consciences of the Western faithful when he found out — through a 2018 survey conducted in the U.S. — that a majority of Catholics paid little heed to the persecution of their co-religionists and were far more concerned about the climate issue.
After founding the non-profit organization Nasarean.org in 2014 to promote aid and advocacy for persecuted Christians with a focus on the Middle East, Father Kiely — a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham — wanted to unite the dioceses of all countries under a single icon, in front of which the faithful could ask with one voice for the Virgin Mary’s intercession for their brothers and sisters discriminated against, or even martyred for their faith.
Strengthening the Faith of Westerners
Launched in 2018, the “Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians” project offers dioceses wishing to do so the opportunity to house an icon painted by Lebanese Melkite nun Souraya Herro, inspired by the traditional image of the “Mother of Tenderness.” The work features the words “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic, Jesus’ language.
Churches where the icon is installed and consecrated, with the blessing of the local bishop, become de facto Marian shrines entirely dedicated to this cause.
The latest of these was inaugurated on July 22 by the Archbishop of Stockholm, Cardinal Anders Arborelius, at the Holy Martyrs Syriac Catholic Church in Kista, a district in the northern part of the Swedish capital. A Syriac Catholic Mass was celebrated for this special occasion in the presence of several hundred people, including members of the Syriac Orthodox clergy.
Sweden is indeed home to a large Christian diaspora community that fled persecution in Middle Eastern countries.
In an email interview with the Register following the consecration ceremony, Father Kiely expressed his gratitude for the words of Cardinal Arborelius who, in his homily, underlined the great strength of the testimony of life embodied by these refugee communities, in a secularized West that is forgetful of its religious roots.
For Father Kiely, this new place of prayer and pilgrimage is also a reminder to Western Christians, whose conscience is often drawn by decades of comfort at every level, that they may one day have to turn to their brothers in the East to escape persecution.
No More Looking Away
Dividing his time between the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, he’s striving to raise greater public awareness of this crucial issue and hopes that, in time, icons of Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians, will grace parishes throughout the West.
“Believers are called to echo the prescription contained in the Acts of the Apostles, where the Church prayed ‘constantly’ when St. Peter was imprisoned,” he said, also lamenting the lack of interest these initiatives arouse among Catholic leaders in various countries. “Unfortunately, many of them continue to have ‘first world priorities’ focused on social or environmental issues.”
“Scripture specifically tells us that if one part of the Body suffers, all suffer,” he continued, renewing his invitation to all bishops around the world who would like to establish a shrine in their diocese to contact his organization.
The Stockholm shrine is the fourth to be established since the project was launched. The first was inaugurated in 2017 in New York City, in the Church of St. Michael, Manhattan. In 2022, Father Kiely’s organization was also behind the establishment of a shrine in the heart of London, at the Ordinariate Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, located in the famous Soho district. The following month, an icon was also installed at St. John the Guardian of Our Lady Parish in the diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts.
Icon commissions, entirely financed by Nasarean.org, also support Sister Souraya Herro’s convent, Our Lady of the Annunciation in Zouk Mosbeh, in the north of Beirut, and their mission in a country where Christian communities have been heavily affected by recent political and financial crises.
“In addition to enabling people to come and pray for the persecuted around the world — Father Kiely concluded — in the Middle East, China, Nigeria and so many other countries, these spiritual centers definitely have a prophetic dimension at a time of growing hostility for Christians in the West.”