In an act to bridge a historical rift going on for centuries, Pope Francis has made an unprecedented move by adding the 21 Coptic Christians martyred by Islamic State terrorists on a Libyan beach in 2015 to the Roman Catholic Church’s calendar, officially declaring them saints.
This momentous decision was announced during a recent meeting between Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the Coptic Patriarch, held in Rome.
According to a report by The Telegraph, this significant step towards resolving doctrinal disputes between the Roman Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, which have regarded each other as heretical for over a millennium, marks a turning point in their relationship.
The meeting between the two pontiffs commemorated the 50th anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, symbolizing a renewed commitment to overcoming the deeply rooted theological differences that emerged in the fifth century.
The schism that occurred in 451 AD was primarily centered around differing interpretations of the nature of Christ, leading to the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church parting ways. Since then, both churches have maintained separate traditions, teachings, and saints. However, this latest decision by Pope Francis demonstrates a progressive stance towards healing the division and promoting unity among Christian denominations.
Amidst the stark desert landscape, a haunting scene unfolded as a group of men, clad in orange jumpsuits, were made to kneel on the sandy ground. Their lives were brutally taken from them as masked executioners, hidden in black attire, carried out their gruesome act. The chilling episode was recorded against the backdrop of the vast sea, capturing the harrowing moment for eternity. Strikingly, these images of the martyrs have transcended their tragic fate to become revered religious icons.
Identifying the victims as the “People of the Cross,” ISIS propagated the false claim that they were worshipers of idols rather than followers of God. In a poignant display of faith and defiance, Ayariga, one of the victims, declared his Christian identity in his final moments, stating, “I am a Christian. I am like them.” Though the specific denomination of Ayariga’s church remains unknown, his unwavering conviction echoed the strength of his fellow martyrs.
A week after the heart-wrenching killings, Pope Tawadros II bestowed the title of saints upon all 21 martyrs, recognizing their sacrifice and devotion. Years later, in 2018, the resting place of these courageous individuals was finally discovered, providing closure for their families and allowing the remains of the 20 Egyptian victims to be repatriated to their homeland. Ayariga’s body followed suit in 2020, completing the journey of these martyrs back to their beloved land.
It is worth noting that the Coptic Orthodox Church had already revered the 21 martyrs, which included Egyptians as saints. These innocent individuals fell victim to the brutality of ISIS, who orchestrated a horrific spectacle to assert their extremist ideology. By incorporating them into the Roman Catholic Church’s calendar, Pope Francis not only recognizes their sacrifice but also seeks to honor their memory and highlight the shared persecution faced by Christians across different denominations.
Their lives were unjustly cut short, and their martyrdom serves as a testament to their unwavering faith and commitment to their beliefs, even in the face of unimaginable brutality.
Their inclusion in the Roman Catholic Church’s calendar will undoubtedly bring solace to their families and communities, while also fostering greater solidarity among Christians worldwide.