Last night’s prayer vigil for persecuted Christians was ecumenism at its very best

An Iraqi woman looks in a camp displaced Iraqis who fled from their towns after advances by Islamic militants take shelter in Najaf, Iraq (PA)

During a recent fund-raising event for ‘Aid to the Church in Need UK’ at the London Oratory, specifically to help Christians in Gaza, their Press Officer John Newton reminded the attendees that persecuted Christians greatly appreciate being told they are being prayed for by their brethren in the West. The simple knowledge of this spiritual solidarity brings them comfort and courage in their suffering for Christ. Appropriately, this vital action was given a public and ecumenical flavour at an hour-long prayer event in Parliament Square that I attended yesterday evening.

Organised by ‘7:14’, a group that organises occasions in which Christians publicly pray together for the nation and its leaders, 600 Christians (mainly Evangelical Protestants, often of a distinctly charismatic flavour) came to intercede together before God for their persecuted middle-eastern brethren-in-Christ. Many were wearing red jackets, jumpers, sweaters and other pieces of clothing in conscious symbolism of the blood of Christians martyred in the plains of Nineveh.

From 18:45, people started coalescing together in the centre of the lawn just opposite the Palace of Westminster, and just before Big Ben struck 19:00, we were called to gather more closely together around two young men who told us the plan: to pray independently for Christians in Iraq, either individually or (as was more expected) in groups, and intercede for three blessings in particular that had been identified by Canon Andrew White, the Anglican Vicar of Baghdad. These were ‘provision’ of food, water, and other supplies they need to survive), ‘protection’ against the violence the barbaric thugs of ISIS, and ‘perseverance’ through their suffering.

The second of the two young men, whose dog-collar probably signified that he was an Anglican minister, then led us in the Our Father together, after which began a wonderful hour of uninterrupted prayer. The freely flexible nature of this meant that everyone could pray as they wanted, which given the minority of spiritual styles and traditions present was appropriately ecumenically sensitive. It did, however, suffer somewhat from the fact that some rather louder, more exuberantly extemperaneous and demonstrative styles of prayer and singing could be distracting for others that involved concentration and meditation (like the Rosaries that the smaller numbers of Catholics present were quietly saying). Still, 15 decades later, and after praying Pope Leo XIII’s novena prayer to St Michael the Archangel (which started that day) with some fellow Catholic friends, the event culminated in singing ‘Amazing Grace’ together, as well as two other hymns, one of which was ‘Ten Thousand Reasons’ by the popular Catholic song-writer Matt Maher. When Big Ben struck 20:00, we all knelt and prayed silently for a minute, before saying a final Our Father.

The atmosphere at this occasion, in which a group of mainly Protestant Christians passionately prayed for their (mainly Catholic, Assyrian, and Oriental Orthodox) persecuted brethren was an excellent form of practical ecumenism: charitable, inclusive, determined, pious, corporate intercession for those Christians most in need of God’s mercy and blessing. Please, more of this sort of thing!