A youth rally took place on Thursday at which young people from across Scotland stood in solidarity with millions of suffering Christians around the world.
At the event in Carfin Grotto 1,200 youngsters declared their support for oppressed Christians in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and Pakistan where persecution has increased dramatically.
Organised by the Motherwell-based Scottish office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the charity for persecuted Christians, the rally began with Bishop John Keenan of Paisley reading out a personal message from Pope Francis intended for those taking part.
The message stated: “His Holiness imparts to all those young persons from Scotland who have clearly expressed their solidarity and concern for suffering and persecuted Christians throughout the world a special Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of abundant graces from heaven.”
The event, ACN’s largest youth gathering in Scotland, attracted youngsters from 30 schools from as far away as Dundee and Galloway.
The young people listened to an address by Humza Yousaf MSP, the Scottish Government Minister for Europe and International Development.
Mr Yousaf said: “The Scottish Government strongly condemns the persecution of Christians and other communities on the basis of their religion, belief or ethnicity.”
He said persecution was not just of concern to Christians, but to everybody because it represented a fundamental breach of human rights.
Also addressing the crowd, Lebanese Maronite priest Father Samer Nassif provided a first-hand account of life for Christians in the Middle East today.
Father Nassif said: “Since 2003, one million and a half Christians were forced to leave their villages and their homes in Iraq and Syria.”
He added that since the conflict in Syria began four years ago 15 million Syrians of all faiths were now internally displaced or living as refugees abroad.
Father Ambrose Ohene from Nigeria spoke on the threat of Islamist terror group Boko Haram.
He said: “Over 15,000 Christians in northern Nigeria have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of children orphaned or displaced.”
Concluding the rally, event organiser Lorraine McMahon, ACN’s head of operations in Scotland, told the young people: “You have heard about the challenges faced by Christians around the world. I challenge you: What will you do individually and as schools to provide for the Church in need?”
Michael J Robinson, ACN’s communications executive in Scotland, said: “Christian persecution is the forgotten human rights issue of the day.
“ACN Scotland wants to work with the youth, the media and the parliament to champion the persecuted Church through our Solidarity Campaign.
“2015 is the time for all of Scotland to stand up for what is right and just.”