ROME — Pope Francis recalled the sixth anniversary of the Islamic State execution of 21 Christians on a beach in Libya, calling them “our saints.”
“Today is the day I have in my heart, that February of 2015,” the pope said in a video-message late Monday. “I hold in my heart that baptism of blood, those twenty-one men baptised as Christians with water and the Spirit, and that day also baptised with blood.”
The pontiff was referring to the Islamic State beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on February 15, 2015. The Christians were dressed in orange jump suits and made to kneel in the sand along a Libyan beach near Sirte, where they were executed by the jihadists.
“They are our Saints, Saints of all Christians, Saints of all Christian denominations and traditions,” the pontiff continued in his message. “They are those who have blanched their lives in the blood of the Lamb, they are those… of the people of God, the faithful people of God.”
The pope referred to the heroic witness of the Egyptian saints, noting how they were ordinary men who made an extraordinary sacrifice: giving their lives for their faith in Jesus.
“They had gone to work abroad to support their families: ordinary men, fathers of families, men with the dream of having children; men with the dignity of workers, who not only seek to bring home bread, but to bring it home with the dignity of work,” he said.
“And these men bore witness to Jesus Christ. Their throats slit by the brutality of ISIS, they died saying: ‘Lord Jesus!,’ confessing the name of Jesus,” he said.
The pope referred to the 21 men as “martyrs,” those who bear the ultimate Christian witness of shedding their blood for Christ.
“It is true that this was a tragedy, that these people lost their lives on that beach; but it is also true that the beach was blessed by their blood,” he said. “And it is even more true that from their simplicity, from their simple but consistent faith, they received the greatest gift a Christian can receive: bearing witness to Jesus Christ to the point of giving their life.”
“I thank God our Father because He gave us these courageous brothers. I thank the Holy Spirit because He gave them the strength and consistency to confess Jesus Christ to the point of shedding blood,” Francis added.
The pope went on to thank all those whose example and teaching prepared the Coptic martyrs for this moment.
“I thank the bishops, the priests of the Coptic sister church which raised them and taught them to grow in the faith,” he said. “And I thank the mothers of these people, of these twenty-one men, who ‘nursed’ them in the faith: they are the mothers of God’s holy people who transmit the faith ‘in dialect,’ a dialect that goes beyond languages, the dialect of belonging.”
“I thank you, twenty-one saints, Christian saints of all confessions, for your witness. And I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for being so close to your people, for not forgetting them,” he said.
“Let us pray together today in memory of these twenty-one Coptic Martyrs: may they intercede for us all before the Father. Amen,” the pope concluded.