Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians gains a shrine in Wyoming

Bishop Robert Pipta Bishop Robert Pipta of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, celebrates a Divine Liturgy on Saturday, May 11, 2024, at the Byzantine chapel at Wyoming Catholic College, on the occasion of the installation and blessing of the new shrine. | Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College

Bishop Robert Pipta of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, dedicated a shrine and an icon on Saturday, May 11, at Wyoming Catholic College directed to prayer specifically for persecuted Christians. 

In a response to CNA, Pipta wrote of the event: “To be reminded that the Theotokos continues her motherly care for persecuted Christians throughout the world is of great value to the Catholic faithful in our communities.”

Pipta celebrated a Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine chapel at the college and was accompanied by its chaplain, Father David Anderson; Father Benedict Kiely; students; and faculty. 

Bishop Robert Pipta blesses the icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians at Wyoming Catholic College on May 11, 2024. Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College
Bishop Robert Pipta blesses the icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians at Wyoming Catholic College on May 11, 2024. Credit: Julian Kwasniewski/Wyoming Catholic College

Pipta blessed the chapel and an icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians, which was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya of the Basilian order, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. This is the fifth such chapel in the world, with a sixth to be dedicated next year in Spokane, Washington, at the request of Bishop Thomas Daly.

In an interview with CNA, Kiely said there are two reasons why Christians should take note of the dedication of the chapel and icon.

“The first and most important is that St. Paul, when he was Saul, was on the way to Damascus, he was knocked from his horse by Jesus,” he said. “To Saul’s question came Jesus’ answer, which should be one of the most important things in a Christian’s life. It was when Saul asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’ Jesus said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’ He didn’t say ‘You are persecuting my church.’ He said, ‘You are persecuting me.’ Anywhere in the world where a Christian is persecuted, it is Christ himself being persecuted. If that isn’t a priority in the so-called free West, then we have a problem.”

Kiely, 60, is a native of England and a priest of the Anglican Ordinariate who founded Nasarean.org, a charity based in Vermont that seeks to provide support to persecuted Christians.

With funds provided by the charity, Kiely said that Christians living in Iraq, for example, have been given the means to start small businesses to support their families. According to Kiely, the shrines are intended to assure persecuted Christians that their co-religionists in the West do care about them. The shrines, he said, offer opportunities to pray for the deliverance of Christians and encourage giving aid.

“As Christians, we believe that prayer is not the last resort but the first resort. I’ve been to Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere nine times in recent years. The very first thing that people ask me to do is pray for them and ask Christians to pray for them. They don’t ask first for aid but for prayer. A place specifically dedicated to pray for them is responding to those two things: that it is Jesus who is being persecuted and that they have asked for prayer,” Kiely told CNA.

In December 2023, on the feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr — the first martyr recorded in the Acts of the Apostles — Pope Francis observed: “Today, 2,000 years later, unfortunately we see that the persecution continues.”

Kiely said in the interview: “If enough people were praying for persecuted Christians, they might find freedom and peace.” In the past, Kiely has suggested that the current synodal process has not sufficiently focused on the issue. 

According to the Open Doors World Watch List, 317 million Christians face persecution and discrimination. One in seven Christians are persecuted worldwide, one in five Christians are persecuted in Africa, while two out of five Christians are persecuted in Asia, according to the group. Apart from the Middle East, which has been ravaged by war and groups such as ISIS, countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and China are of special concern.

This icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic. Credit: Father Benedict Kiely
This icon of the Virgin Mary of Persecuted Christians was painted by Syrian Melkite Greek Catholic Sister Souraya, who resides in Lebanon. The icon is inscribed “Mother of the Persecuted” in Aramaic. Credit: Father Benedict Kiely

“I only install an icon in a diocese where the bishop will bless it,” Kiely said. This is to signal the importance of prayers for the persecuted. The installation of the icon at Wyoming Catholic College was forwarded by Anderson, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest at the college, and approved by Pipta.

“This is the first dedication of the icon in a college, and it is especially important because young people, the students, will pray for the persecuted,” Kiely said.

The first shrine of the Blessed Mother dedicated in 2017 to persecuted Christians was at St. Michael Parish in New York City. This was followed by another shrine in London and in Worcester, Massachusetts. The most recent installation was at a Syriac Catholic parish in Stockholm. The dedication in Massachusetts was accompanied by the world premiere of the “Mass for Persecuted Christians” by Catholic composer Paul Jernberg.

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