Even as Holy Mass was being sung in the honour of the souls of the 21 Christians beheaded by Libya Daesh—also known as Islamic State (IS)—on February 2015, the Coptic Church issued a statement thanking all authorities and individuals who had made it possible for the bodies of the martyrs to be brought home to Egypt.
The statement read: “The Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod, headed by Pope Tawadros II, expresses thanks and appreciation to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and his aides, and all the authorities concerned in Egypt; also to the Egyptian and Libyan embassies in Libya and Egypt, and the public prosecutors and security authorities in the two countries, as well as Africa Airways for their faithful, singular, and highly efficient effort to find the bodies of the martyrs of the nation and the Church, and return them home in dignity.
“We also thank the Egyptian Ministry of Health and the Ambulance Authority for the effort to receive the bodies at the Cairo Airport and move them to their village in Minya.
“We pray that the Lord preserves Egypt and guards her against all evil, and that He would give her peace and stability, also to the entire world.”
An aircraft carrying the body remains of 21 Christians who had been beheaded by Daesh in the coastal town of Sirte, Libya, in February 2015, had landed in Cairo Airport last evening 14 May. Pope Tawadros II was on hand to receive them home; he was accompanied by Anba Pavnotius, Bishop of Samalout and a number of bishops and high-ranking Church and State officials. The bodies, which were identified through DNA testing, were placed in 21 coffins, each carrying an engraving of the name of the man whose body it holds. They were taken down from the aircraft to a deacon procession awaiting them on the ground singing the joyous chants of the Resurrection. The Pope welcomed the bodies with prayers of thanksgiving and praise.
The coffins will be taken to the village of al-Our in Samalout, Minya, some 250km south of Cairo, where they will be placed in a special shrine prepared for them.
The Coptic Church had declared the 21 Christians martyrs of faith, since they had laid down their lives for their faith. By order of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, a church was built in their honour in the village of al-Our which was home to 13 of the martyrs. The church was named by President Sisi: “Church of the Martyrs of Faith and the Nation”. It houses a shrine to host their remains.
The 21 martyrs, 20 Copts and one Ghanaian, had been working as labourers in Libya. They were captured by Daesh some time by yearend 2014 or early 2015 as they attempted to leave the country and return home. Gruesome video footage was broadcast by Daesh on 15 February 2015, showing the 21 Christian men lined up in orange jumpsuits on a beach in Sirte where they were beheaded. The footage sent shock waves in Egypt and around the world. Egypt retaliated the following day with a succession of airstrikes against Daesh targets in Sirte.
In September 2017, the Libyan public prosecutor announced that the burial site of the beheaded men had been located, on information yielded by the cameraman who had videotaped the beheading, and who was caught by the Libyan authorities. Complicated procedures followed, including DNA testing, to identify the bodies and ship them back to Egypt.
The date 15 February is now marked by the Coptic Church as the Feast of Modern-day Martyrs. It was first celebrated this year at the church of the Martyrs of Faith and the Nation at al-Our, with a large congregation filling the church. The shrine included photographs of the martyrs, but their families said they waited for the days when their bodies would be brought home to be housed in the shrine.
The coffins arrived at al-Our in the early hours of today, 15 May, and were laid in church for Midnight Praise and Mass the following day. They were received by the villagers in al-Our with an ecstasy of joyous ululations and songs of praise written expressly for them. Their families and fellow villagers were elated at their loved ones’ homecoming; a feeling of collective relief and joy filled al-Our.
After Mass, the martyrs were laid in their final resting place.
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15 May 2018