Overnight vigil planned in support of Iraqi Christians

PEOPLE from across Manchester and beyond are to take part in an overnight vigil – the first of its kind – being held in support of persecuted Iraqi Christians and others who suffer oppression. 

ONE NIGHT for Religious Freedom will take place at Holy Name Church, Oxford Road, central Manchester on Saturday, 18th April, starting at 8pm. 

Organised by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need and hosted by the Jesuits at the Holy Name, ONE NIGHT has received support from large sections of the community in a city now home to 18,000 people with Iraqi origins. 

Event organiser Caroline Hull, ACN UK’s Manager for the North West, said: “ONE NIGHT is a chance for all of us to stand together in solidarity with the thousands of suffering and persecuted Iraqis now living in camps in Kurdish Northern Iraq, as well as in neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Jordan. 

“While many displaced and refugee Iraqis are Christians, there are substantial numbers from other traditions, notably Shi’a Muslims and Yezidis." “ONE NIGHT offers a chance for all to come together with the goal of more open discussion, increased understanding and greater tolerance of different faiths.” 

She added: “I am thrilled at the positive response that ONE NIGHT has had from so many people in Manchester and beyond who clearly want to support the vigil.” Caroline Hull said that among those attracted to the event were students involved with university chaplaincies run by the Jesuits at the Avila Centre, next to Holy Name Church. 

Manchester–based journalist Hussein Al-alak, from the Iraq Solidarity Campaign UK, said: “For us, supporting ACN’s work for Iraqi Christians is a natural step in helping the Iraqi people overcome the trauma, displacement and bereavements which result from war and other conflict.” 

ONE NIGHT has been devised within a Christian, Catholic framework, but is open to people of all faith backgrounds and none. 

Mass will be held both at the start and at the end of the vigil and in between there will be talks on religious minorities in Iraq and ACN’s work in support of Iraqis and Syrians fleeing persecution and other violence. 

Devotional hours for Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt and Ukraine will run throughout the night. There will be conducted tours of Holy Name Church and rounding off the event will be an Iraqi-themed breakfast. 

Broadcast during the evening will be recorded messages from Catholic bishops in the North-West region and ACN partners who coordinate the charity’s projects for displaced Iraqi Christians. 

A chapel within the Holy Name will be dedicated to the persecuted Church and will house the ONE NIGHT Icon, an image of the Madonna and Child which has recently toured churches throughout Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. 

This icon was painted in Russia and once belonged to Maggie Fleming, an aid worker from Manchester who helped to run an orphanage in Romania until her death in 2002. 

London-based electronica band Ooberfuse, whose work provided the musical backdrop for Pope Benedict XVI’s UK visit in 2010, will be premiering the video of its new single We are One around 10pm at the vigil.

Ooberfuse has just returned from a visit to Erbil, northern Iraq, and band members Cherrie and Hal will talk about their experiences meeting and filming the displaced community there. Cherrie said Ooberfuse was delighted to “be involved in any way [with ACN] in raising awareness relating to the plight of Christians in Iraq. 

“It’s a blessing for us to be part of ONE NIGHT for Religious Freedom.” 

Those unable to attend the event will be able to follow the vigil via Social Media, access themed devotional resources at www.acnuk.org/onenight and sponsor votive candles to be lit at the vigil by donating to ACN’s work with Iraqi Christians through Just Giving. 

By John Pontifex

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