A Christian group seeks to establish icons of the Virgin Mary in churches throughout certain parts of the world to remind people of faith to pray for their fellow believers who face persecution.
Father Benedict Kiely is the founder of Nasarean, the non-profit organization behind the “Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians” project, which aims to open shrines dedicated to the prayer of persecuted Christians throughout the United States and Europe. Kiely founded the non-profit in 2014, and the organization helps persecuted Christians worldwide but focuses primarily on the Middle East.
The group uses an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary to invite others to pray at the shrine after a local bishop blesses it. In addition to the depiction of Mary holding the Christ child, the icon features the words “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic.
According to Nasarean’s website, the Archbishop of Stockholm, Cardinal Anders Arborelius, of the Holy Martyrs Syriac Catholic Church, blessed the recent shrine on July 22. The installation and blessing of the icon took place following a Syriac Catholic Mass to celebrate the event.
The shrine at the Stockholm-based church is the fourth installation that the group has been involved with, and it is the first one to take place in mainland Europe, according to Nasarean.
“It is a particularly special church for Nasarean — the sanctuary depicts some of the modern martyrs, including Fr. Ragheed Ganni and Bishop Raho — both martyred in Mosul,” the Christian advocacy group stated. “We are truly blessed and very much encouraged by this wonderful experience; please keep our persecuted brethren in your prayers and blessings on all who made this newest installation possible!”
As the National Catholic Register reported Tuesday, Kiely stated that the shrine is intended to help Christians in the West remember their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ facing persecution in other parts of the world.
“Believers are called to echo the prescription contained in the Acts of the Apostles, where the Church prayed ‘constantly’ when St. Peter was imprisoned,” the founder of Nasarean told NCR in a statement.
The Catholic priest bemoaned what he perceived to be a lack of initiative among Catholic leaders in various countries, stating that many 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 added.
The shrine in Stockholm is not the first to be installed since Kiely’s organization launched the project. In 2017, the first was inaugurated in the Church of St. Michael, Manhattan, as NCR reported. Nasarean also facilitated the establishment of the shrine at the Ordinariate Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory in London and another in October 2022 in Worcester, Massachusetts.
As The Pillar reported last month, Sister Souraya, a Syrian nun of the Basilian Order, painted the icons of Mary. In a June 2022 tweet, Nasarean shared that it had helped the nun rebuild her studio outside of Beirut, the Lebanese capital.
In a July 23 statement to the Catholic outlet, Kiely clarified that Nasarean provides diocesan bishops with the icons for free.
Regarding the establishment of one of the icons in Sweden, Kiely cited a November 2020 study by the Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies. The study found that the European country is home to over 120,000 Middle Eastern Christians.
As the study also noted, this group of people is simultaneous “outsiders” due to their ethnicity or migrant status and “insiders” through a claim of shared history of Christian faith.”
Nasarean’s efforts to inspire prayer for persecuted Christians can be viewed in the context of the watchdog group Open Doors’ World Watch List 2023. According to the report, more than 360 million Christians face persecution for their faith, and one in seven Christians are persecuted worldwide.
One in five Christians is persecuted in Africa, while two in five are persecuted in Asia, according to the watchdog group.
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