Pope marks anniversary of Christians martyred in Libya

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Marking the sixth anniversary of the beheading of 21 Christians on a beach in Libya, Pope Francis said they gave witness to Christ through their martyrdom.

In a video message released Feb. 15 for an online event commemorating the “Day of Contemporary Martyrs,” the pope said that while their brutal murder was a tragedy, it was also true that “from their simplicity, from their simple but consistent faith, they received the greatest gift a Christian can receive: bearing witness to Jesus Christ to the point of giving their life.”

“They had gone to work abroad to support their families: ordinary men, fathers of families, men with the desire to have children; men with the dignity of workers, who not only seek to bring home bread, but to bring it home with the dignity of work,” he said.

“And these men bore witness to Jesus Christ. Their throats slit by the brutality of ISIS, they died saying: ‘Lord Jesus!’ — confessing the name of Jesus.”

The martyred Christians — 20 Egyptian Copts and one Christian migrant from Ghana — were beheaded in 2015 on a Libyan beach by the Islamic State group, which later released a gruesome video that sparked worldwide outrage.

Among those participating in the online event to commemorate the anniversary were Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.

In his video message, the pope said the martyrdom of the 21 Christians was “a day I have in my heart” because it marked the day they were “baptized with blood.”

Pope Francis thanked God for their witness and thanked the Holy Spirit “because he gave them the strength and consistency to confess Jesus Christ to the point of shedding blood.”

He also thanked the mothers of the Christian martyrs who “‘nursed’ them in the faith.”

“They are the mothers of God’s holy people who transmit the faith ‘in dialect,’ a dialect that goes beyond languages, the dialect of belonging,” the pope said.

“I thank you, 21 saints, Christian saints of all confessions, for your witness,” the pope added. “And I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for being so close to your people, for not forgetting them.”

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