Pope Francis adds 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs to Catholic list of saints
Pope Francis announces with Pope Tawadros II that 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs will be inserted into the Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church as a sign of the spiritual communion of the two Christian Churches.
“May the prayers of the Coptic martyrs, united with those of the Theotokos, continue to help our Churches grow in friendship, until the blessed day when we can celebrate at the same altar and receive together the Body and Blood of the Savior.”
Pope Francis expressed that desire for greater Christian unity on Thursday during an audience in the Vatican with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.
The Patriarch of the See of St. Mark has spent the last three days in Rome to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Joint Christological Declaration, a milestone in relations between the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
In his address, Pope Francis said 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs would be inserted into the Roman Martyrology “as a sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two Churches.”
The 21 Coptic Christians—of whom 20 were Egyptian and 1 hailed from Ghana—were beheaded in Libya in 2015 by militants of the so-called Islamic State. A video published by the terrorist organization showed the men praying as they died.
The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates their feast day on 15 February, the date they were martyred.
During their audience, Pope Tawadros gave Pope Francis a reliquary of the Coptic martyrs, for which Pope Francis expressed his heartfelt gratitude.
“These martyrs were baptized 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.
Invoking intercession of Coptic saints
Later on Thursday, Pope Tawadros II held a press conference at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.
He told reporters that the martyrs’ bodies were exhumed in 2018 and brought to Egypt. The Coptic Church built a shrine in their honor in El-Aour, the hometown village of most of the men.
“We ask for their prayers often,” said Pope Tawadros, “and we believe they continue to offer us a great blessing.”
He urged Catholics to invoke their intercession as well.
The Coptic Pope also laid out four steps to follow along the path toward reconciliation and Christian unity, pointing to the figures depicted on a cross he has displayed while in Rome.
Pope Tawadros said the first step is that of fraternity in Christ, expressed through joint activities. The second step, he added, includes mutual understanding through the study of traditions, sacraments and “everything that has to do with the Churches.”
The third step, he said, involves liturgical and informal dialogue, including dialogue among young people and members of the Churches’ respective clergy. The fourth step is prayer, “because prayer can work miracles.”
“Once we have completed these four steps,” said the Coptic Pope, “we arrive at the heart of Christ, and this takes a long time. But we believe that the Holy Spirit is with us on this journey.”
Orthodox martyrs in Catholic list of saints
This is not the first time that non-Catholic Christians have been inserted into the Roman Martyrology.
In 2001, several Orthodox saints who lived after the separation of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1054 were added to the Catholic list of saints.
These include the Slavic saints Theodosius and Anthony of Pečerska (11th century), and Stephen of Perm and Sergius of Radonezh (14th century).