Ash Wednesday, is the day that Christians begin the season of Lent. It is a sacrificial, introspective, penitent and prayerful time, as we prepare to go to the cross with Jesus, and be resurrected with Him on Easter Sunday. It is a period of 40 days.
But, for Coptic Christians in Egypt, it is a season of lamentation, as all of us, from various religions around the world, watched with horror, the beheading of 21 members of the Coptic faith.
It is also a week of sadness for Muslims, as we heard over and over, the story of Muslim students being shot in the head, in North Carolina, supposedly over a parking space dispute.
And Kayla, a young American Christian woman, who just wanted to help bring peace in the world, loses her life, again at the hand of religious extremists.
And in Iran, Pastor Abedini, a Christian Pastor, and in Iraq, Yazidi, men and women, are held and terrorized, or forced to flee, against their will, and Christians are exiting by the hundreds of thousands, just because their faith differs with others.
And the Ecumenical Patriarche and Halki seminary and Greek Orthodox leaders are denied religious freedom privileges as well.
And hundreds of Nigerian school girls, Muslim and Christian, whose parents just wanted for them to have an education, have been abducted, raped, possibly sold as sex slaves or into marriage, still go missing.
First, let me express my condolences to all the families, those who we've heard about, and those whom we don't know about, who've lost loved ones, and to those whose loved ones are being terrorized, please know that our prayers are with you.
The ISIS Crisis, ISIL, Boko Haram, terrorists who act in the name of or who oppose religious freedom, has taken over our screens. It is the headline news almost each day in the media, and the world is on fire.
They thrive on publicity and the more we give them, the more they commit violent, egregious acts. We are attempting to fight an ideology with ground troops and bombs, but what happens so often, is that the innocent are often the ones who are hurt or killed. Religious leaders must come together and solve this problem, speak to our followers, and get to praying and acting in a serious way. Lent reminds us that "faith without works is dead." Christ suffered until death so that we would not have to. It's time to start a serious faith strategy for national and international religious freedom." Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." What better starting point than now, the Season of Lent?
On this Ash Wednesday, I received my ashes and stand with those who cannot openly share their faith.
Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook was the 3rd US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. A contributor to Huffington Post, CNN, MSNBC and Al Jazeera, she heads the ProVoiceMovement for Women. And provides Global experts, who specialize in Counterterrorism. ProVoiceMovement@gmail.com.