Views from the Pews: We must support the persecuted

Fr Michael Sellers, St Mary and Joseph Catholic Church, Pocklington
Fr Michael Sellers, St Mary and Joseph Catholic Church, Pocklington

On Monday 22 June we celebrate two of our English martyrs, St Thomas More and St John Fisher. They lived at a turbulent time in English history in the reign of Henry VIII.

It is a history well known to many, when a once Catholic country now called Catholics traitors.

Most people kept quiet and went along with the crowd, a few remained faithful, like Thomas More and John Fisher, and paid with their lives.

John Fisher was a local man; born in Beverley he attended the local grammar school before studying for the priesthood at Cambridge.

Both men rose to positions of power and influence; Thomas More as chancellor and John Fisher as bishop of Rochester. Both men were loyal Catholics and loyal Englishmen, as were 99% of their countrymen.

Henry VIII drove a wedge between those two loyalties when he broke with the Church. Every man and woman had to make a choice, deny God and the Faith or be executed.

Throughout the year the Church has special Days of Prayer, for peace, for the sick, for the unemployed, for family life, etc. Monday 22 June is the Day of Prayer for those who suffer persecution.

The ancient Christian communities in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon among others are much in our prayers.

Formerly Christians were tolerated, but with the spread of IS, as witnessed in the news, Christians are given a stark choice to deny their faith or leave the country.

The numbers of people displaced by this intolerance is staggering; hundreds of thousands of people have fled, communities have been destroyed and families devastated. This is not to mention those who stay behind and are killed. The Day of Prayer for the persecuted reminds us that this is not just a remembrance of the past.

Many people say that religion should stay out of politics. History shows us where the overlap has caused problems for both sides. But at the same time it is a duty for a Christian to speak out for the persecuted. Every Christian has a right to live by their faith and practise it in their daily lives.

Please spare a thought for the persecuted on 22 June. The vast majority of people want to live their lives and follow their religion in peace and harmony. May the persecuted find the justice and freedom which they seek, and may we all find ways to support and encourage them.