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Lent is a a time to deepen our faith. There are lots of ways of doing that of course, including prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Whilst embracing those traditional Lenten activities this year I want to suggest a particular focus for Lent: The plight of our fellow Christians throughout the world who are facing unprecedented persecution.

It's more widespread then it has ever been since this crypt was built by St Wulfstan. I don’t want to minimise the horror of the persecution of any group. I dare say we are all aware that the majority of those who suffer in Syria at the hands of Muslim extremists, are their fellow Muslims. But that oft quoted fact, can mask something very significant. According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Germany, 80% of all acts of religious discrimination are against Christians.

This finding is echoed in other studies. The Pew Forum estimated that between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced discrimination in a staggering 139 countries. That's three-quarters of the total nations of the world. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity estimated that 100,000 Christians have died in what it refers to as ‘a situation of witness’ each year for the past decade – that’s eleven Christians every hour, every day of those ten years.

The extraordinarily widespread nature of this new generation of martyrs means that it is not a ‘clash of civilisations’ between Islam and the West, as is sometimes characterised. In fact, Christians are facing a bewildering variety of threats, with no single enemy.

Almost as disturbing is the lack of reporting of this onslaught by Western mainstream media. I want, this Lent, to encourage all in the Diocese to find out more about those who are suffering – from Syria to Nigeria, from Burma to Egypt, from North Korea to India. There is lots of information about it on the Internet: you don't have to very look far. And the deeper you look the more distressing it becomes.

Pope Francis said in a General Audience four years ago: ‘When I hear that so many Christians are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it a member of my own family who is suffering? Am I open to that brother or sister in my family who is giving his or her life for Jesus Christ.’

St Paul’s arresting image of the body emphasises that when one suffers, we all suffer. In this Diocese we are seeking to become true to our vocation to become Kingdom People but we cannot do that in isolation. At one level or other, we do all suffer when our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer.

My hope and prayer, as we prepare to commemorate the Lord’s passion this coming Holy Week, is that we shall take the plight of our fellow Christians to our hearts – and to our prayers. We might also like to fast for them and give financially to organisations like the Barnabas Fund, Friends of the Holy Land or Embrace the Middle East which seek to come to their aid in more practical ways.

The with St Paul we shall be able truly to say: 'If one suffers, we all suffer together. We stand wit those who suffer praying for the day when we shall all rejoice together.'

May God bless you this Lent.

+John