Coptic martyrs’ testament to their faith



Father Joseph D. Wallace, director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden, and other members of the Catholic-Muslim Commission, recently met to discuss the deeds of ISIS and similar groups
Father Joseph D. Wallace, director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden, and other members of the Catholic-Muslim Commission, recently met to discuss the deeds of ISIS and similar groups

I think we were all appalled and shocked by the recent murder of some 21 Egyptian Copts killed on the shores of Libya recently. The image went worldwide in a video released by the Islamic State group showing the Coptic Christians in orange jumpsuits being led along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. Later in the video, the men are made to kneel and one militant addresses the camera in English before the men are simultaneously beheaded. It was gruesome, barbaric and evil.

An Egyptian Catholic, Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina said that the “diabolical” video of the Christians’ mass execution was intended to “spread terror” but conversely became a testament to their martyrdom in the faith. The video of their beheading shows that “in the moment of their barbaric execution,” some of the Coptic Christians called out the name of the “Lord, Jesus Christ,” he said. “The name of Jesus was the last word on their lips,” said Bishop Mina. And like the early church martyrs, “they entrusted themselves to the one who would receive them soon after. That name, whispered in the last moments, was like the seal of their martyrdom.”

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a Muslim, confirmed in his statement that Egyptian “martyrs” had fallen victim to terrorism and expressed his condolences to the Egyptian people. El-Sisi called for an urgent meeting of the Council of National Defense and declared seven days of official mourning.

Pope Francis called for prayers for those killed in Libya. He offered his Mass at his residence for the slain Christians he termed “our 21 brother Copts” whose throats had been slit “for the sole reason of being Christians,” and he called for prayers for the victims so “that the Lord welcome them as martyrs.” He asked for prayers for the victims’ families and for the Egyptian Orthodox Coptic leader, Pope Tawadros II, “who is suffering so much.” Pope Francis called Pope Tawadros to express his condolences and assurance of prayers. At the end of his weekly audience last week Pope Francis called on the international community “to find peaceful solutions to the difficult situation in Libya.” And Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, said, “the situation is serious and it demands a united response from the international community, a rapid response, the quickest possible from the U.N.”

What’s particularly scary about this group in Libya is that the spokesman on the video of the murders said, “All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together. The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.” After the beheadings the same speaker pointed northward and said, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.” A rather ominous threat.

All of this comes on the heels of the gruesome killing of the young Jordanian pilot, First Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh in early January. ISIS militants first chained him inside a metal cage and then poured flammable fluids into the cell. With the young pilot looking on they lit the fluid on fire. Then as Kasasbeh was burning to death, they dropped debris on him, like brick masonry. Finally they drove a bulldozer over him several times. This to a fellow Muslim. Sometimes the international community misses or is unaware of the large number of Muslims killed by ISIS for not swearing allegiance to them. It is estimated to be around 12 civilian, men, women and children every single day. Often in front of their families and neighbors.

At a recent Catholic-Muslim Commission meeting, we wrestled with some of these vexing issues around Muslims not speaking out enough about the murderous deeds of ISIS and other groups like them. The average devout Muslim condemns these heinous acts against human beings, especially when those murders claim to be members of their faith. We are planning as a commission to be available to parishes interested in having us come to speak to parish groups about the true teachings of Islam, the Koran’s teachings on Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist and other interesting connections. Also as an opportunity to meet Muslims in our area and hear of their faith journey, fears and aspirations. More details will follow.