Pope Francis Declares 21 Coptic Martyrs Saints
Pope Francis recently declared 21 Coptic Christians martyred by Islamic State terrorists on a Libyan beach in 2015 saints and added them to the Roman Catholic Church’s calendar.
The pope’s decision was made during a meeting with Coptic patriarch Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, further bridging the long-standing divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church. The schism between both churches goes back to 451 AD due to differing views on the nature of Christ.
According to The Telegraph, the meeting between both popes also fell on the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s meeting with Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, which also reflected a commitment to overcome the theological differences between both churches.
The Coptic Orthodox Church previously venerated the martyrs, 20 of whom were Egyptian workers and one Ghanaian, Matthew Ayariga. In 2015, Pope Tawadros II declared all 21 martyrs as saints a week after ISIS members beheaded them on a beach. Video footage shows the martyrs dressed in orange jumpsuits and forced to kneel in the sand.
At the time, ISIS called the victims “People of the Cross,” claiming that they were idolaters instead of worshipers of God. In his final moments, Ayariga declared: “I am a Christian. I am like them.”
In 2018, the bodies of the 20 Egyptian victims were returned to their homeland after their burial place was discovered. Ayariga’s burial place was found in 2020.
As reported by The Christian Post, Pope Francis discussed the martyrs’ baptism of blood, a belief dating back to the early years of the Church that one can be granted entry to Heaven via martyrdom, despite not being baptized through traditional water baptism.
“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,” the pope said of the martyrs.