Pope Francis has spoken out about the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya.
“Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me!’ Pope Francis said at the conclusion of an audience Monday with the moderator of the Church of Scotland. “They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians.”
"The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard," the Pope said. "It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood."
A video of the decapitation of the 21 Copts kidnapped in Libya at the beginning of January, was put online by jihadist websites yesterday Sunday.
In a statement Monday morning, the Egyptian military said that it had conducted airstrikes at dawn against training camps and arms depots of the Islamic State group in Libya, according to the New York Times. The Foreign Ministry said that Egyptian warplanes had struck Derna, a town in eastern Libya that is a hub of Islamist militancy.
A spokesman for the Patriarchate of Alexandria of Coptic Catholics, said in a statement to Fides News Agency that Archbishop Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, the Primate of the Coptic Catholic Church, said he “offers his condolence to all the families of these martyrs who gave their lives for the faith, and at the same time expresses his gratitude to President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and all the institutions of the Egyptian government for giving an immediate response to this act of terrorism.”
The statement says the tragic death is to be seen through the eyes of faith and that the entire country is united in its reaction.
“This tragedy is uniting the entire country, Christians and Muslims," said Father Hani Bakhoum Kiroulos, Coptic Catholic Patriarchate secretary. "If their aim was to divide us, they have failed. Immediate harsh condemnation came from Cairo’s Al Azhar University. And the swift retaliation on the part of the Egyptian air force on Islamic State bases in Libya also demonstrated that for the Egyptian government its citizens are all equal and that Egypt is suffering as a nation from the bloodthirsty delirium of the terrorists.”
In the video, militants in black marched the captives, dressed in orange jump suits, to a beach the group said was near Tripoli, Reuters reported Sunday. They were forced down onto their knees, then beheaded.
On Sunday night, White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued a statement condemning the beheadings, describing the victims as “innocents” and “citizens” but ignoring the victims’ faith.
“The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists,” the statement read, offering condolence to the victims families.
But the omission seemes to overlook one of the main drivers behind the beheadings. The very title of the video was “A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross,” and a caption read, "The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church." Another caption said, "The filthy blood is just some of what awaits you, in revenge for Camilia and her sisters," an apparent reference to Egyptian Muslims who were married to Coptic priests and the controversy sparked by their alleged conversion to Christianity.
Before the killings, one of the militants stood with a knife in his hand and said: "Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for."
As the Associated Press pointed out, the killings took place less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy, raising the possibility that the Islamic militant group has established a direct affiliate within striking distance of Europe. One of the militants in the video makes direct reference to that possibility, saying the group now plans to "conquer Rome," the wire service said.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.