As Pope Francis laments the beheading by the Islamic movement ISIS of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians working in Libya, the US reaction overlooks the fact that all 21 were Christians.
Pope Francis offered his morning Mass on February 17 for the repose of the souls of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians killed by ISIS militants for their faith, praying that man learn to reject his evil temptations and choose what is good.
The men were laborers, gone from their homes in a few small Egyptian villages for months at a time as they worked in Libya, despite the dangers, for earnings they sent home to feed entire families.
On January 3 at around 2:30 am, masked gunmen began knocking on doors, looking for Christians with traditional tattoos on their hands identifying them as Coptic Christians. Those who were found were pulled from their beds and taken away.
A video of their mass beheading on a Libyan beach was released by the militants on February 15. It was titled, “A Message Signed in Blood to the People of the Cross.”
Two days later, the Pope prayed for “our brother Copts, whose throats were slit for the sole reason of being Christian, that the Lord welcome them as martyrs, for their families.” He added mention of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, “my brother Tawadros, who is suffering greatly.”
Francis had also personally called Patriarch Tawadros to offer his condolences and solidarity.
The Coptic Catholic Bishop of Giza, Antonios Aziz Mina, has concurred with the Pope that the victims were “martyrs,” saying that “the name of Jesus was the last word on their lips” as they were being executed.
However, in the US, the Obama administration’s reaction ignored the clear aspect of religious persecution in the mass beheadings, refusing to even acknowledge that all of the 21 victims were Coptic Christians.
“The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of 21 Egyptian citizens,” began the official statement by White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who went on to call the killings “just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region….”
No mention was made of the victims being sought and killed specifically for their religious identity, and no statement was issued by President Obama himself.
In contrast, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement that began, “I am outraged and saddened by the beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians,” and offered condolences not only to the victims’ families, but also to “the Coptic community here in Canada, who will feel the loss especially grievously.”
Pope Francis’ liturgy in memory of the victims was a sign of union with the Coptic Church, who held funeral celebrations for the victims the same day. The Pope’s second personal secretary, Monsignor Abuna Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, also a Coptic Catholic from Egypt, was present.
Francis initiated his reflections during the Mass by turning to the Bible passage in Genesis that speaks of God’s wrath in the face of man’s wickedness before the great flood. He lamented that man often seems more powerful than God due to his capacity to destroy what God has created.
The Bible itself provides examples, such as Sodom and Gomorrah and the Tower of Babel, which prove there is “an evil that lurks in the depths of the heart.”
“This is where wars begin,” Francis said. “Jealousy, envy, so much greed for power. Yes, this sounds negative, but it is realistic,” he continued, noting one only needs to pick up a newspaper to see the evidence, since “more than 90 percent of the news is of destruction.”
“We are capable of destruction, that’s the problem,” Francis said, and spoke of the arms trade, noting that there are countries that sell weapons, wage war and continue to sell to the country they are warring with, so the fighting continues.
However, despite man’s capacity to do evil and to destroy, he has the Holy Spirit to help him choose what is good in the little things, Francis noted.
Jesus gives us the strength to do this, he said, explaining that the Lord today wants to tell us: “Remember. Remember Me, I shed my blood for you; remember Me, I have saved you, I have saved you all.”