The Diocese of Down and Dromore partnered with Open Doors for its annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Downpatrick on Monday 18 March.
The theme was Counting the Cost: Standing with the Persecuted Church, and the President of Open Doors UK & Ireland, Eddie Lyle, spoke at the Holy Communion service in Saul.
We were also privileged to have an Egyptian Christian, ‘Michael Jones’ (not his real name) join us for the pilgrimage and to speak at the Festival Service in Down Cathedral.
Eddie has worked alongside the persecuted church for two decades and has learned many things from the Christians he has met and ministered with.
He reminded us that, “The New Testament was written by persecuted Christians, for persecuted Christians, in the context of persecution. It focuses especially upon those who daily share our faith but not our freedoms. For our persecuted brothers and sisters, the Bible is a survival aid. It affirms the fact that if you seek to live a holy life you will be persecuted. It teaches them that persecution isn’t abnormal. Around the world, wherever the gospel is shared, persecution exists.”
He continued: “St Patrick understood this. What we know of his ministry in Ireland was that he preached the gospel fearlessly, knowing that his life was in danger from those who diametrically disagreed with what he was preaching.”
Eddie also read a very moving letter from a Christian Syrian family who, when offered the chance to leave the country, sensed God asking them to stay and face possible kidnapping or death.
Open Doors led the Pilgrimage from Saul to Down Cathedral. Archdeacon David McClay and Revd Mark Harvey have met persecuted Christians from North Korea and Iraq respectively and we concentrated our prayers on those countries and Egypt. David and Mark later shared their experiences at the Festival Service.
The procession of pilgrims walking up the Mall and into the cathedral, was a reminder of the religious freedom we enjoy, and which is routinely denied to millions of Christians around the world.
Our preacher ‘Michael Jones’, (right), is working with ministry partners to strengthen the church and teach Egyptian Christians to stand through persecution and pressure. They suffer daily discrimination in work and education and worshippers have been targeted by violent extremists. In spite of this, the church is growing.
“Pray with us, not just for us, said Michael. “We don’t need or want anything but to shine for the Lord.
“The enemy wants to empty our region of Christians. Don’t pray for persecution to stop. Pray for perseverance and persistence and for the joy of the Lord to shine all over the region.
He concluded: “Continue to join hands with us. Stay close. Pray for us and we will pray for you. My prayer is that God would raise up many faithful and fearless Patricks. May you shine as a church in this country and may his Word be heard throughout this land.”
Following Michael’s address, Revd Julie Bell played the haunting ‘Theme from Schindler’s List’ on violin and our Albany guests, Revd Tom and Elizabeth Papazoglakis, led the prayers.
At the end of the service and before the wreath laying and lunch, Bishop Harold invited each person to place their hand in the imprint on the new St Patrick’s cross and commit themselves to follow the way of Christ, no matter what the cost.