Mosaic of Saint Helen at the church façade

#RedWednesday 2021 Looks at the Sharp Rise in Anti-Christian Persecution in Africa

Posted : Nov-10-2021

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Evellyne Lemos is a Toronto-based coordinator for Aid to the Church in Need Canada.

November 17 will be the fourth year that churches and other religious buildings across Canada will be illuminated in red for Red Wednesday, a day that brings Christians together to pray for the end of religious persecution. Every year new participants join to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians, who number around 327 million, making them the most persecuted religious group on the planet. 

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is very pleased to be partnering with St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto again this year. The cathedral will be illuminated in red and will host a prayer vigil presided by Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, at 7 p.m. Salt+Light Television has been a great supporter of Red Wednesday over the years and it will be broadcasting the vigil later in the evening of November 17 (at 9 p.m.) for those who cannot attend in person. 

ACN is inviting participants to dress in red on Wednesday to show their solidarity with Christians who are victims of religious persecution. Individuals can also do their part by using the hashtag #RedWednesday on their social media channels to help make the day more visible to those who want may want to join us in pray for our suffering brothers and sisters. 

Because the scope of this religious persecution is unknown to some, our hope is to reach as many people as possible, in unity with other Christian denominations and Catholic rites. Together we can raise the issue of religious freedom, while praying for our Christian brothers and sisters, that God may hear our prayers, hear their cries and set them free from their plight by bringing peace to their lives and hearts.  

Holding the Heart of Africa in Our Prayers 

Burkina Faso has been under attack since 2015 and is seeing its welcoming and tolerant way of life challenged by outside fundamentalist forces. In Nigeria, Catholic bishops now speak of a “slow genocide” of Christians who are massacred or driven off their land by well-organized armed extremist groups.

On September 29, two bishops and an official from a South African-based non-governmental organization discussed these issues during a video conference at the international headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need, in Germany. According to Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of the Makurdi Diocese, in Nigeria, the escalation of violence is no longer just a conflict between predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers.

“It is not just a question of grazing land. To me, it’s a religious war,” he said. “They have an agenda to Islamize this country and they are doing it by methodically eliminating all Christians and occupying territories. If it was just grazing land, why kill people? Why burn their houses?”

Johan Viljoen, Director of the South African Denis Hurley Peace Institute, which works to promote peace, democracy and justice, continues to study the armed attacks by the Fulani in south-eastern Nigeria. He calls it a “concerted and well-planned occupation. This is the first time the Catholic Church in Nigeria has used the term genocide — ‘slow genocide’—to refer to what is happening in Nigeria.”  

These countries are only a couple of examples of where religious freedom is in peril or non-existent in Africa – and elsewhere in the world.  

“We hope that as many people and institutions as possible respond to the call and participate in Red Wednesday in solidarity with persecuted Christians,” said Ms. Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada. 

ACN is also currently working on a new report called “Hear Her Cries,” due to come out in December, which examines  how women are specifically targeted and persecuted because of their faith. 

In Toronto, a prayer vigil will mark Red Wednesday at 7 p.m., while in Montreal a prayer vigil will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Mary Queen of the World Cathedral Basilica in Montreal.

“The Chœur des Anges (Choir of Angels) will accompany the vigil with the liturgical songs featuring the African sound they are known for,” said Ms. Lalonde. “Given the rise of Islamist extremism in many African countries, we thought we would imbue with the vigil their music.” 

“The findings of ACN’s ‘Religious Freedom Report – 2021,’ published last April, are distressing for a large part of the continent, which seems to be increasingly invaded by extremists, very often alien to local Islam, thus destroying the social fabric of a large part of the region,” said Ms. Lalonde. 

In-person and on Salt+Light Television 

This year, Salt+Light Television will provide a live broadcast of the special prayer vigil from the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral Basilica in Montreal at 7:30 p.m. A prayer vigil from St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto will begin in-person at 7 p.m. and it will be broadcasted on Salt+Light at 9 p.m.

“Between the vigils, viewers will have the opportunity to watch a documentary on Nigeria produced by ACN,” added Lalonde. 

For more information, please contact Ms. Evellyne Lemos, ACN Canada coordinator in Toronto, at: 416-785-0498 or