Pope Francis Honors 21 Coptic Martyrs Slain by ISIS, Includes Them in Catholic Calendar

Pope Francis Declares Saints
Wikimedia Commons/Long Thiên

Recently, Pope Francis has officially declared 21 of the Coptic Christians who were slaughtered by the ISIS movement fighters in Libya last 2015 as saints. In this historical move, the Pope is paving its way towards bridging the centuries-old gap between the Roman Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox.

In a recent meeting in Rome with Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the Coptic Patriarch, the pontiff made the declaration. The encounter, which The Telegraph claims was crucial in addressing doctrinal differences between the two churches in which it has always been seen one another as essentially heretical, was a turning point in the dispute-resolution process. The event also marked the 50th anniversary of a meeting between Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria and Pope Paul VI, underscoring their shared desire to end theological disagreements that date back to the fifth century.

Pope Francis Makes Historic Gesture, Declares 21 Coptic Christians Martyred by ISIS as Saints

Different interpretations of Christ's character caused the schism in 451 AD, which eventually ended in the division of the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church. Pope Francis represents a significant step towards rapprochement and unification by adding the 21 martyrs to the Roman Catholic Church's calendar.

According to the article shared in Christian Today, these martyrs had previously received saintly status from the Coptic Orthodox Church. Twenty Egyptian employees and one Ghanaian, Matthew Ayariga, made up the group; they, unfortunately, perished in an ISIS-organized gory display. They were forced to kneel in the sand while wearing orange jumpsuits during their execution on a Libyan beach. Their beheadings were captured on camera while the water served as the background. Their executioners were dressed in black. Since then, religious icons have been made based on the horrifying images of the martyrs.

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People of the Cross

The victims were referred to by ISIS as "People of the Cross," and they were charged with idolatry rather than sincere adoration of God. While it is uncertain whose church Matthew Ayariga belonged to, his steadfast devotion is a tribute to his religion. In his final moments, he confidently declared, "I am a Christian. I am like them."

Soon after the heinous killings, Pope Tawadros II wasted no time in declaring the 21 martyrs to be saints. But according to the article in Christian Headlines, however, it wasn't until 2018 that the victims' burial place was found, allowing for the return of the 20 Egyptian victims to their country of origin. In 2020, Matthew Ayariga's bones were sent back to his family in Ghana, concluding the mournful process of establishing a final resting place for these martyrs.

Pope Francis' canonization of the 21 Coptic Christians as saints bridges a gap that has existed for many years, both symbolically and historically. The Pope's embrace of the martyrs honors their sacrifice and promotes harmony and understanding between the Coptic Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. The effects of this unusual action on the ongoing discussions and relationships between the two Christian faiths are still to be seen, but it unquestionably represents a significant step towards greater harmony within the faith.

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