Vatican marks first Feast of the Coptic Martyrs

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Vatican marks first Feast of the Coptic MartyrsNine years ago, twenty-one Coptic men were executed by ISIS on a beach in Libya. Now, for the first time, their feast day has been celebrated by the Catholic Church.

For the first time, the Catholic Church has celebrated the feast day of the 21 Coptic martyrs killed by ISIS in 2015.

The men – members of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church – were murdered on a beach in Libya. Footage of their execution was posted online by the terrorist group, and shared widely.

All 21 men were immediately proclaimed martyrs by the Coptic Church. Then, last May, Pope Francis added them to the Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church’s official list of saints.

Prayers in St Peter's

Yesterday, Thursday 15th February, was the first time that the feast of the Coptic martyrs had come around on the Catholic calendar of saints.

To mark the occasion, an ecumenical prayer service was held in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, presided over the celebration, at which relics of the martyrs were placed on the altar and venerated.

In his homily, the Cardinal reflected on the concept of the “ecumenism of blood” which is so important to Pope Francis, quoting his words: “If the enemy unites us in death, who are we to divide ourselves in life?”

“The communion of martyrs,” Cardinal Koch stressed, “undoubtedly speaks more eloquently than the divisions that still separate us today.”

Coptic delegates

Also present for the prayer service were a number of representatives from the Coptic Church: Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina, Coptic Catholic Bishop Emeritus of Ghizeh; Fr Thaouphilos, Vicar General of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Turin-Rome; and Fr Antonio Gabriel, parish priest of the Coptic Church of St Mina in Rome.

Musical accompaniment was provided by Rome’s Coptic Choir, composed of around two dozen boys and young men. Their voices swelled, filling the Choir Chapel in St Peter’s Basilica with their chant:

“Blessed are you, O martyrs. You suffered many tortures, and the sea testified, and you put on your crowns.

Without words, you made your voices heard, and your voices have travelled to the ends of the earth.”

Speaking to Vatican News after the conclusion of the prayer service, Fr Antonio described the Pope’s recognition of the Coptic martyrs as a “beautiful sign” aimed at unifying Christians.

The Power of Faith

The prayer vigil was followed by a showing of the film “The 21: The Power of Faith” in the Vatican Film Library.

The documentary, directed by the French-Egyptian filmmaker Samuel Armnius, with the support of Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, tells the story of the Coptic martyrs through a series of interviews with their family members.

Speaking to Vatican News, Mr Armnius said that he had been “deeply moved” when he first came across the images of the martyrdom of the 21 men.

“For me,” he said, “there was a very, very strong urge” to meet the families of the martyrs, “to gather their testimonies, and to understand what really happened. To tell them ‘We are here with you, we haven't forgotten you, and we want to bring your voice to Europe with us.’”

Joseph Tulloch