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Christians unite in prayer for today’s martyrs at St. Bernadette in Springfield

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The candles were lit one by one and placed in a bowl of sand before the altar. Each flickering flame represented a country where Christians experience extreme persecution, from Afghanistan to Malaysia. According to the Center for the Study for Global Christianity, 90,000 Christians were martyred in 2016 alone. In the face of such a devastating reality, Father Donald J. Rooney, pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, and Alexei Laushkin of the ecumenical Kingdom Mission Society felt it was critical that they join together in prayer.

Around 40 Catholics and Protestants from around the area gathered at St. Bernadette June 16 to sing hymns, read from the Bible and listen to sermons from prominent international church leaders such as Pope Francis and Bishop Anba Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The Scripture readings recounted Jesus’ promise that His followers would face persecution but that they also would possess “something better and more lasting” — eternal life. The prayers remembered those facing harassment and imprisonment as a result of an oppressive government, such as Christians in China or North Korea, as well as those facing persecution from terrorist organizations, as Syrian and Iraqi Christians are. The somber evening ended on a hopeful note with an exchanging of peace and the hymn, “How Can I Keep from Singing?”

Lucy Benavides of Church of the Nativity in Burke was watching television when she decided the Lord wanted her to come to the prayer service, she said. Benavides often meditates on a line she heard in one of Pope Francis’ homilies — “that we should focus less on what divides us, and more on what unites us,” she said.

Laushkin, an Anglican, and Father Rooney, chairman of the ecumenical and interreligious affairs commission, met through their ecumenical work and invited many churches in the Springfield area to the service. “We're seeking to find events that bring Christians together so that they might form relationships,” said Laushkin. “Our working assumption is that when we’re in relationships together, God can create new missions in the church.”

Christians of all types from Nigeria to Bhutan are killed for their faith, and Christians of all types should be united in prayer for them, said Laushkin. “Any type of Christian unity is formed out of relationship and relationship requires being together but also to be struck by the same things,” he said. “The witness of today's martyrs can bring the church together in a profound way.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017