11 February 2011
Love, St Valentine
Women around the country are being encouraged to put the heart back into Valentine's Day by celebrating Valentine's Day with a difference and supporting persecuted Christian women at the same time.
Valentinus is believed to have been a church leader who was executed in AD269 for defying a Roman order banning marriage. He continued to marry couples in secret - and was eventually put to death.
Now Alliance member Release International, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide, is inviting women to stage a special Valentine's meal to support women around the world who are suffering for their faith.
They include Asia Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy - a charge she denies - and women separated from husbands and family members who have been jailed because they are Christians.
"We're aiming to get back to the real meaning of Valentine's Day," says organiser Emma Dipper, of Release:women.
"We invite you to arrange a Love, St Valentine meal for your home group, women's group - or even your whole church."
According to tradition, Valentinus clashed with Claudius II after the emperor banned marriage in a desperate move to recruit more men into his dwindling army.
In defiance of imperial Rome, Valentinus secretly married couples at night. He also helped persecuted Christians. When he was caught, he shared his Christian faith with Claudius - who had him executed.
And it's said the Valentine's cards we send today can be traced back to the saint's last night on earth.
Tradition has it that Valentinus befriended his jailer's daughter. On the eve of his death he wrote a last letter to her, signing it: 'From your Valentine'.
"Persecution is still sadly a daily reality for many Christian women," says Emma. "We're not sure what Valentine would have made of the card and chocolate industry that has sprung up in his name, but we're sure he would have approved of our Love, St Valentine meals to support persecuted Christians."
Release has produced a starter pack, including invitations, recipes and posters, and a DVD Break our Hearts. These are available from their website.