Twenty-One Coptic New Martyrs of Libya

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Twenty-One Coptic New Martyrs of Libya


On February 15, 2015, black-clad fighters of the Islamic State (ISIL) in Libya led a procession of twenty-one Egyptian Copts in orange jumpsuits to a beach on the Mediterranean coast, where they were forced to kneel before being summarily beheaded. These migrant workers, who had come to Libya to do construction work, had been kidnapped in the preceding weeks. In a videotape released by their killers, the martyrs can be heard praying to Jesus and chanting hymns. Evidently they had rejected the opportunity to renounce their faith. A week after their deaths, they were declared saints by Pope Tawadros II, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Eventually their bodies were returned to Egypt and interred in a special shrine.

It turned out that one of the twenty-one was not in fact an Egyptian or a Copt, but a fellow migrant worker from Ghana. He was given a chance to spare his life but refused. “Their God is my God,” he reportedly said. “I will go with them.” Ultimately his body was also returned to Egypt, reunited with his fellow martyrs, whose families said, “Now our joy is complete.”

Immediately after their deaths, Pope Francis honored the memory of these martyrs: “They were killed for being Christians.” But in an extraordinary gesture, during a public meeting with Pope Tawadros in May 2023, Francis asked the Coptic pope’s permission to add them to the Roman Martyrology “as a sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two churches.”

“These martyrs were baptized not only in water and the Spirit, but also in blood, with a blood that is a seed of unity for all followers of Christ.” —Pope Francis

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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