Religion /

Pope Francis Recognizes 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians Killed by ISIS as Martyrs

The men were beheaded in 2015 and a video of their execution was posted online

Pope Francis recognized 21 Coptic Christians who were murdered in Libya would be added to the Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church during an audience with the Coptic Orthodox pope, Pope Tawadros II.

The newly recognized Coptic Orthodox martyrs were beheaded by Islamic militant members on a beach in Sirte in February of 2015. ISIS released a video of the men – 20 from Egypt and one from Ghana – praying as they were killed. Their bodies were recovered in 2017 and sent to Egypt. A church was built in the Egyptian men’s hometown in their honor. 

“These martyrs were baptized not only in the water and Spirit, but also in blood, a blood that is the seed of unity for all of Christ’s followers,” Francis said while speaking with Tawadros on May 11 at the Apostolic palace, per AP News. All saints and blesseds, including martyrs, that are officially recognized in the liturgy of the Catholic Church are listed in the Martyrology. 

The Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest branch of Christianity in Egypt, a majority Muslim country. An estimated 90% of the world’s 10 million Coptic Christians reside in Egypt. The members of the religion are frequently the subjects of violent attacks carried out by Muslim militants. 

In 2021, 17 Egyptian Coptic Christians went missing in Libya. Between August 2018 and April 2019, Coptic churches in the Minya province 130 miles south of Cairo experienced mob attacks on three separate occasions. Two Coptic churches were bombed on Palm Sunday (April 9) in 2017. 

While announcing the decision to recognize the Coptic Christians as martyrs, Francis expressed his hope for greater unity among Christians. He said the men’s insertion into Roman Martyrology is “a sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two Churches.”

During the exchange, Tawadros gifted Francis relics of the 21 Coptic martyrs. The men will be recognized with a Catholic feast day.

Tawadros also expressed his desire for reconciliation and Christian unity. According to Vatican News, the Coptic Pope said unity can be achieved through participation in joint activities, the establishment of mutual understanding through the study of scripture, the cultivation of dialogue between young people and clergy members from both faiths, and, finally, prayer. 

“Once we have completed these four steps, we arrive at the heart of Christ, and this takes a long time,” said Tawadros on May 11. “But we believe that the Holy Spirit is with us on this journey.”

“Thursday’s meeting between Pope Francis and Tawadros II, which also included a private conversation, concluded with prayer in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace,” reports the Catholic News Agency. “The encounter was one of several events this week marking the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting between St. Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, which was a turning point in relations between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches.”

*For corrections please email [email protected]*