Historic: Pope recognises 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs

Coptic Orthodox martyrs

In a historic move, Pope Francis has added 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs to the Roman Martyrology, an official list of martyrs and saints.

Not since 5th century have Catholic and Coptic Churches shared saints.

The 21 non-Catholic Christians (20 Egyptians and one Ghanaian) who were beheaded by Islamic militants in Libya will have their feast day and be recognised as martyrs.

Pope Francis announced the move on May 11, 2023, during an audience with the Coptic Orthodox pope, Patriarch Tawadros II (pictured with Popr Francis), who was present in Rome.

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

While the Catholic and Coptic churches have saints in common from the first centuries, these 21 martyrs will be the first recognised by both churches since the fifth-century split.

The two church leaders are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Shenouda III. During their private meeting, Pope Francis thanked Patriarch Tawadros II for the “precious gift of a relic of the Coptic martyrs killed in Libya on February 15, 2015.”

The relics come from the church dedicated to the 21 martyrs, erected in 2018 in their home village of al-Our.

Beginning of a new era of relations

According to a Vatican source, this recognition by the Catholic Church emphasises “the ecumenism of martyrdom,” also known as the “ecumenism of blood.”

These 21 men were martyred “because they were Christians” and died “in hatred of the Christian faith.” The move marks an important step towards unity between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Experts have hailed the announcement as historic, as both churches’ recognition of these martyrs is significant.

“Just as we have saints in common from before the break-up of the Churches, we will now have saints in common from today,” said an expert.

Francis has frequently referred to the “ecumenism of blood” that unites all Christians in honouring martyrs of the faith. But the inscription of modern-day martyrs of another church in the Catholic liturgical calendar is a significant first, according to Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Vatican office responsible for relations with other Christian churches.

“This is the beginning of a new era of relations,” Farrell said.


AP News


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