Keeping faith with the persecuted Church

Catholic martyrs – both ancient and new – were at the forefront of people's thoughts and prayers during a pilgrimage to Scotland's shrine to Our Lady in Carfin.

The Aid to the Church in Need Day of Witness and Faith at Carfin Lourdes Grotto included a Way of the Cross procession with meditations on historic figures including St Thomas Becket and St Joan of Arc as well as Christians killed since 2005 including Fr Ragheed Ganni from Iraq and Shahbaz Bhatti from Pakistan.

The pilgrims also heard about four-year-old Emmanuel Dike killed on Christmas Day 2011 alongside 44 others during Mass at St Theresa's Church, Madalla, in Nigeria.

Just back from a fact-finding trip to Nigeria, ACN's John Pontifex described meeting Emmanuel's mother, Chioma Dike, who lost four family members during the attack at St Theresa's.

Mrs Dike told Mr Pontifex: "I have a broken heart – only God can help me. I will never lose faith in God."

In a presentation setting out the key findings of his trip, Mr Pontifex described the worsening security situation in north-east Nigeria, where he met many young people injured by attacks on churches during Mass.

He highlighted the people's faith commitment and their determination to reject violence.

Describing the threat in north-east Nigeria caused by extremist groups including Boko Haram, Mr Pontifex quoted Nigeria's Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos who said: "They can bomb our churches… but they can never take away our faith in Christ."

The pilgrimage, held on Saturday in sunny, warm weather, began with a rosary procession at which Catholic martyrs through the ages were remembered.

The programme – attended by more than 70 people – continued with Mass in the grotto's Glass Chapel celebrated by Father Brian Logue, assisted by Deacon Jim Aitken from St Francis Xavier parish, Carfin.

Acting as stewards and carrying the statue of Our Lady were members of the Knights of St Columba, who have been raising funds for Aid to the Church in Need's work in Sudan.

Event organiser Lorraine McMahon, ACN's Head of Operations in Scotland, said: "It is so important to pray for the many Catholics and other Christians around the world who suffer so much for their faith.

"Pilgrims told me afterwards they were deeply moved by the plight of people who put their lives on the line for their faith. They are an inspiration to us all.

"I had goose bumps during the presentation on Nigeria when I heard how the persecuted Christians are so encouraged by our prayers and solidarity."