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Coptic Orthodox martyrs slain by ISIS to be added to Roman Martyrology, Pope Francis tells Coptic Pope

May 12, 2023

In a significant ecumenical gesture, Pope Francis said on May 11 that the 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians beheaded by members of the Islamic State in Libya in 2015 will be added to the Roman Martyrology, the list of saints and blesseds commemorated in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

The Pontiff made the announcement during a meeting with Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church (CNEWA profile), on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the historic meeting of their predecessors, Pope St. Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III. The Coptic Orthodox Church is among the Oriental Orthodox churches that ceased to be in full communion with the Holy See following the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451.

On the previous day, May 10, Pope Tawadros had joined Pope Francis in blessing the weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“In this journey of friendship we are also accompanied by the martyrs, who testify that ‘no one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn 15:13),” Pope Francis said at the conclusion of hs May 11 address to Pope Tawadros. “I have no words to express my gratitude for the precious gift of a relic of the Coptic martyrs killed in Libya on 15 February 2015.”

Pope Francis added:

These martyrs were baptized not only in water and the Spirit, but also in blood, with a blood that is a seed of unity for all followers of Christ. I am pleased to announce today that, with Your Holiness’ consent, these twenty-one martyrs will be included in the Roman Martyrology as a sign of the spiritual communion uniting our two Churches.

May the prayers of the Coptic martyrs, united with those of the Theotokos, continue to make our Churches grow in friendship, until the blessed day when we will be able to celebrate together at the same altar and commune with the same Body and Blood of the Saviour, “that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21)!

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published the first postconciliar edition of the Roman Martyrology in 2001 and a revised edition in 2004. An English translation of this Latin-language text is in preparation, the US bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship said in a 2022 newsletter.


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  • Posted by: fsj - May. 13, 2023 12:09 PM ET USA

    This is a tremendous step toward full reunion with an ancient apostolic Church separated from Catholic Communion for most of Christian history! Yet many Catholics like Fr. Atchley will view this news with cynicism and alarm because they misperceive Oriental Orthodox Christians as "monophysites" who reject Jesus' true humanity.  The following should correct this misperception:

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - May. 13, 2023 10:46 AM ET USA

    I truly don't know what to think or how to feel about this.

  • Posted by: fsj - May. 12, 2023 8:00 PM ET USA

    Hopefully the Vatican will publicize the 1988 accord between the Oriental Orthodox and Romans Catholic Churches,acknowledging their common confession of the union of Jesus' true and full humanity and divinity as unconfused, unadulterated and indivisible. Many Catholics to this day misperceive Oriental Orthodox Christology as Monophysite per Eutychian heresy, but it is Miaphysite per the orthodoxy of St. Cyril of Alexandria, champion of Mary as Theotokos at Ephesus against Nestorianism.

  • Posted by: fatheratchley - May. 12, 2023 6:22 PM ET USA

    So that's why God wills religious diversity (a la the Abu Dhabi Declaration), so that there might be more martyrs?