“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.” Pope Francis responded today to the news that 21 Egyptian Christians have been beheaded by Islamic State militants. “Their blood confesses Christ,” the Holy Father said to a visiting delegation representing the Church of Scotland. “The martyrs belong to all Christians.”
On Sunday, ISIS released a graphic video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya. The video, titled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” features one of the jihadists speaking in English and addressing himself to “crusaders” while describing the terrorist group’s “chopping off the heads that have been carrying the cross.” Once the captives, dressed in orange jumpsuits, are beheaded, the jihadist states, “And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”
The murdered Christians were Egyptians living in Libya who were abducted by ISIS in December and January.
In retaliation for the beheadings, Egypt carried out airstrikes today on several ISIS military targets. According to one report from Libyan military personnel, at least 50 people were killed by the bombings.
The White House released a statement condemning the beheadings, although it did not mention that the victims were Christians. “We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens,” the White House’s statement said. “ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds. It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity. This wanton killing of innocents is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region, including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL.”
Below are Pope Francis’ remarks on the murders, delivered at the end of his address to leaders of the Church of Scotland:
I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!” They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. 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. The martyrs belong to all Christians.
Updated 2/17: On Tuesday, during daily Mass at the Santa Marta Chapel, Pope Francis asked the congregation to join him in prayer “our brother Copts, whose throats were slit for the sole reason of being Christian, that the Lord welcome them as martyrs, for their families, for my brother Tawadros [the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria], who is suffering greatly.”