During a meeting with the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Francis announced that he would be adding Coptic martyrs killed by Daesh (ISIS) in 2015 to the Roman Catholic Church’s calendar.
The pronouncement that the 21 men would be added to the Martyrology – a list of saints and blesseds arranged according to the anniversary of their deaths – was made yesterday (11th May) during a meeting with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II at the Vatican.
Daesh beheaded the men in Sirte, Libya, video-recording their executions and posting the footage online.
Pope Francis told Pope Tawadros II: “These martyrs were baptised not only in water and the Spirit, but also in blood, blood that is a seed of unity for all followers of Christ.
“I am pleased to announce today – with the agreement of Your Holiness – that these 21 martyrs will be included in the Roman Martyrology as a sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two churches.”
Their inclusion in the Martyrology, will make them the first saints to be honoured by both Churches since they split following the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD.
They have been commemorated in the Synaxarion, the Coptic Orthodox equivalent to the Roman Martyrology, since 2015.
At the meeting in the Vatican Library, Pope Tawadros II and Pope Francis exchanged gifts.
When presented with his present, Pope Francis said: “I have no words to express my gratitude for this precious gift of a relic of the Coptic martyrs killed in Libya on 15th February 2015.”
This is the date on which they will be commemorated in both the Roman Martyrology and Synaxarion.
Pope Tawadros was given a relic of the fourth-century Egyptian martyr St Catherine of Alexandria, who is venerated by both Churches.
When Pope Francis met Pope Tawadros II for the first time a decade ago, in May 2013, he underlined how the suffering of the martyrs could bring Christians from different denominations closer together.
Quoting 1 Corinthians, 12:26, he said: “‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.’
“This is a law of the Christian life, and in this sense we can say that there is also an ecumenism of suffering – just as the blood of the martyrs was a seed of strength and fertility for the Church, so too the sharing of daily sufferings can become an effective instrument of unity.”
Pope Tawadros II is visiting Vatican City to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III in 1973, which was the first meeting between the heads of the two Churches since the fifth century.
The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church said: “Reconciliation and unity require a long journey, and this is happening after 15 centuries of separation.”