Offering prayers and inspiring support for persecuted Christians throughout the world, Gene Skurlak of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in New Holland turns to the Knights of Columbus’ commissioned icon of Our Lady, Help of Persecuted Christians.
“We can pray to Our Mother to end this terrible disease of persecution,” says Skurlak, a member of Council 13451 at the eastern Lancaster County parish.
Last month, Council 13451 brought the traveling icon to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, reverently displaying it in the narthex alongside cards with a Prayer for Persecuted Christians.
The icon is part of the Supreme Council’s Marian Prayer Program. Now in its 18th year, the program has drawn some 20 million people to nearly 167,000 parish prayer services venerating such images as Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Charity and Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
This year’s icon, created by Italian iconographer Fabrizio Diomedi, depicts the Blessed Mother, with the Child Jesus, spreading her mantle of protection over a representation of Christian martyrs who died in different places and in different centuries. Among them are men, women and children of Roman and Eastern Catholicism, as well as those of Coptic, Armenian, Syriac and Orthodox traditions.
The image, sent out after the Knights’ Supreme Convention last August, is traveling across the country to raise global awareness of the sacrifice and current persecution of Christians. Other Lancaster-area parishes that have hosted the icon this winter include Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Ephrata and St. John Neumann in Lancaster.
“We were happy to bring it here, to make people aware of the icon and what it represents. The icon is a special item to have, especially as Our Lady of Lourdes Parish marks its 100th anniversary this year,” said Patrick Naimoli, Grand Knight of Council 13451.
“Our Lord and his family had to flee because of persecution, and here we are with people still being persecuted in our day and age,” he said. “The icon helps us to think about what’s going on, and to pray.”
The Marian Prayer Program calls particular attention to the sufferings of Christians who are currently being persecuted in the Middle East. In an effort to offer assistance to them, the Knights of Columbus’ Christian Refugee Relief Fund has raised and distributed nearly $20 million since 2014 to feed and clothe families in the Middle East. The fund has also helped resettle families and rebuild villages destroyed by ISIS.
“Persecution is a serious problem around the world, and it’s even in our communities in small ways,” Skurlak said. “Many Catholics don’t realize that they have been persecuted at one time or another. Maybe a person standing up for pro-life, whose family or neighbors shunned them for their belief. Maybe someone was denied a promotion because of their faith. These too are forms of persecution; it comes in all forms.”
“Persecution is like a virus that is spreading,” he said, “and we can turn to the Blessed Mother for Help.”
(Learn more about the icon of Our Lady, Help of Persecuted Christians and the Marian Prayer Program at www.kofc.org/en/programs/faith/marian-icon-prayer.html#/.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness