From September 8, 2022, persecuted Christians have the first shrine dedicated to them in Europe, inaugurated in London, England, at the Ordinariate Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory, in Soho district. The shrine is officially entitled to Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians.
In Europe (and, actually, around the world) there are of course other chapels and holy places where believers can pray for modern martyrs, but this is the first such place in the Old Continent specifically dedicated to this aim. It is a project of Father Benedict Kiely, an English priest who consecrates his life to persecuted Christians since the Summer of 2014.
Born in London 59 years ago, and ordained in Canterbury, England in 1994, Father Kiely divides his priestly ministry between England and the United States. He is incardinated in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established on January 15, 2011, for former (mainly conservative) Anglicans in England and Wales in accordance to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus”. The Ordinariate is part of the territory of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which encompasses also Scotland, and is directly subject to the Holy See. Spread in many countries of the world, it is put under the patronage of former Anglican John Henry Newman (1801–1890), now a Roman Catholic saint, and derives its name from the title given to the Virgin Mary in the village of Walsingham, in Norfolk, England. Here, Marian apparitions took place in 1061, which were later approved by Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903) and Pope Pius XII (1876–1958). Very interestingly, Our Lady of Walsingham is not venerated by Roman Catholics only but also also by Western Rite Orthodox and some Anglicans.
Fr. Kiely’s attention to persecuted Christians (which he describes as a vocational call within his priestly call) began in face of the terrible burden of Christians in the Middle East, in some quarters of which they are threatened of genocide. This is clearly reflected in Nasarean.org, the charity he founded in Stowe, Vermont.
The London shrine is built around an icon of Mary, painted by Sister Souraya, a Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic nun of the Basilian order, who has an art studio in Zouk, Lebanon, outside Beirut. The icon bears the inscription “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic, which is believed to be the language spoken by Jesus.
The shrine aims at bringing attention through prayer to the most persecuted of all religious groups in the world. Open Doors documents in fact that more than 360 million Christians, roughly one seventh of the total, suffer serious persecution and discrimination in the world, while Persecution.org gave the “2022 Persecutor of the Year Award” to Afghanistan and to Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria.
While urging bishops interested in establishing analogous shrines to get in touch with him, Fr. Kiely already announces the inauguration of the next one, which will take place in a church in Worcester, Massachusetts, in October. It will be the second in America. The first was inaugurated in St. Michael Church, Manhattan, New York, on June 12, 2018.
Commenting the new, first European shrine that honors persecuted Christians in London, Fr. Kiely told “Bitter Winter”: “It is very important. This will show that the Western Church does care about the worldwide persecution of Christians. Many times I have been told by Iraqi, Syrian and Nigerian bishops and priests that they believe, deep down, the Western Church doesn’t care.”