CHURCHES UNITE TO REMEMBER CHRISTIANS KILLED IN LIBYA
Six years after the massacre of 21 Christians in Libya by the so-called Islamic State (IS), Christians unite in remembrance and solidarity. As bereaved families in Egypt take comfort in their faith, church leaders, including Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Orthodox Church and Pope Francis, spoke at an online event to mark the anniversary.
“Heavenly consolations fill our hearts, and the blessings of the martyrs surround us,” Bashir, who lost his brother, cousin, and brother-in-law in the attack, told SAT-7. The families of many of the men who were killed – 20 of whom were from Egypt, while one was from Ghana – continue to take solace in their faith, holding prayers each year on 15 February, the anniversary of the killings now marked in the Coptic Orthodox Church as Contemporary Martyrs’ Day.
This year, church leaders from around the world also united for the first time on the anniversary in an online event for Contemporary Martyrs’ Day. The event was convened by Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and director of Refcemi, the Coptic Orthodox Office for Advocacy and Public Policy, which organised the event.
“What we are talking about here is not an attack on the Coptic Orthodox Church, or Coptic Orthodox Christians, because there is no monopoly on suffering or persecution. For to persecute is to dehumanise; to commodify; to take away the image and likeness of God that is within and that is at the core of our humanity,” said Archbishop Angaelos, who is also chair of the SAT-7 International Council and Executive Board.
In a video message played at the event, Pope Francis said of those killed for their faith, “They are our saints. Saints belonging to all Christians, saints of all Christian denominations and traditions. They are those who … have received the greatest gift a Christian can ever receive: to bear witness to Jesus Christ to the point of giving his own life.”
Pope Tawadros also spoke via video message, while other church leaders took part live. Speakers included the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury; Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain; Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; and Rev. Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro.
Addresses from the panel focused on freedom of religion or belief in the broadest sense, touching on communities that continue to suffer marginalisation and persecution as a result of their religious beliefs, including those in the Middle East and North Africa.
The 21 men were kidnapped in December 2014 and held captive by IS fighters in Libya, until a video was posted showing the militants brutally killing the men on a beach.
Days after families of the kidnapped learned of their loved ones’ deaths by watching the video, Bashir called in to the SAT-7 ARABIC program We Will Sing with a message of forgiveness. “IS helped strengthen our faith,” he said. “When they left in the part of the video showing our brothers crying out the name of Jesus, we were honoured, and we thank them for it.”
Later, Mrs Dawood, Bashir’s mother, also appeared on SAT-7. She said, “They told me IS was coming. I said, ‘Why not, I could make tea for them and pray that God opens their hearts and minds to the faith.’ I was not afraid… if my sons were not afraid, why would I be?”
The Egyptian government also built a church dedicated to the martyrs in their village, called Al Our, in Minya governorate in 2018.