21 Coptic Orthodox Martyrs of Libya

Last Sunday I mentioned the 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs of Libya who were martyred by terrorists of the Islamic (ISIS) in 2015. It was especially memorable, because the terrorists posted the video of the event online, to strike terror in the hearts of those who refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ.

These 21 seemingly ordinary men were construction workers. But it was their daily “yes” to Christ in their day-to-day “ordinary” lives that gave them strength to be heroic witnesses to Jesus Christ, to the Christian faith.

Their family, while of course saddened by the horrific events, spoke of the pride they felt; that their husband, brother or father refused to renounce his faith, and so courageously gave his life.

The Cathedral of the Martyrs of the Faith was built in al-Our, Egypt in their honor, the hometown where most of the 21 men were from.

It seems that the plan of the ISIS terrorists to scare people away from Christianity has only inspired more and great faith among many.

But besides being an incredible story of 21 ordinary men becoming heroic witnesses continuing to inspire faith in others, their story also inspired steps of healing in the Church.

May 11, 2023 Pope Francis added them to the “Roman Martyrology,” the Roman Catholic Church’s official list of Martyrs (and thus, Saints).

The unusual thing is that these martyrs were not part of the Catholic Church. They were part of the Coptic (Egypt) Orthodox Church, a Church that is in schism from the Catholic Church.

The Coptic church is one of the Oriental Orthodox churches – Christian communities of North Africa, the Middle East and India – that accepted the teachings adopted at the first three ecumenical councils, but rejected the Christological definition of the fourth council, held in Chalcedon in 451.


However, through theological and ecumenical dialogue, the Oriental Orthodox churches and mainline Christian communities have concluded that those differences were a matter of terminology and not substance. Between 1971 and 1996, leaders of each of the independent Oriental Orthodox churches signed declarations with either St. Paul VI or St. John Paul II affirming a common faith in Christ’s humanity and divinity.

On May 11, 2023, Pope Francis took a step to continue to heal these divisions. He met with Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, Egypt. It was during this meeting the 21 Coptic martyrs were formally added to the Roman Martyrology. As Pope Francis noted, these men were martyred for being Christian, not for being Orthodox. Thus, united by the Christian witness of these martyrs, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros also exchanged gifts, held an audience together, and prayed together. Thus, this whole event is another significant step in healing some ancient divisions in the Church.

“Reconciliation and unity require a long journey,” Pope Tawadros told reporters. “And this is happening after 15 centuries of separation.”


– Fr. Kevin