You've probably noticed the symbol above on the Facebook feed of some of your friends and you might be wondering what it is and what it means.
Well, unless you've been completely disconnected from the world over the past few months, you know that the situation of Christians in Iraq and Syria is especially dire. In the face of a fast-moving Muslim extremist movement, a huge number of Christians have been given an ultimatum to either convert to Islam, pay a heavy tax, leave, or be killed if they stay.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been forced to flee their homes to avoid the threat of faith-based execution. Many have already been killed for their faith.
When Christian-owned buildings are confiscated, they are being marked with the Arabic letter nun, which is the first letter of the Arabic word "Nasara" (i.e. Nazarenes) - the word Muslims use to refer to Christians. Marking the home of a Christian family with a nun is also a means of intimidation.
The persecutors in Iraq and Syria mean it as a mark of shame. Many Christians and others around the world, then, have begun to post the "nun" (like the one at the top of this post) on their Facebook pages as a sign of solidarity with Christians in the Middle East, as a show of support for those who are persecuted.
"The violent attacks ... cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of good will to concrete acts of solidarity," Pope Francis wrote recently in a letter to the UN Secretary General on the dire situation of Christians in Iraq.
The threat that our Christian brothers and sisters are facing today is very, very real. These are communities which can trace their beginnings to the earliest days of Christianity. Until this point, they have survived, even as minorities under the numerous regimes. But now, men, women and children are being slaughtered and forced into exile simply because of their faith in Christ.
So what can
do to help?
1) First of all, you are urged to pray and to fast, offering spiritual sacrifices for those who are suffering for their faith.
2) You may wish to join many others in using the "nun" as your profile pic in Facebook to draw attention to this situation. If you do so, we would encourage you to also post a link to an organization like the two mentioned below, that are giving direct assistance to Christian refugees in the region.
3) Donate to
Catholic Relief Services
or to the Holy Father's own charity
"Aid to the Church in Need."