, 15 February, 2020 / 12:15 AM
As the Egyptian Coptic Church marks the 5th anniversary of the 21 Christian men who were beheaded by ISIS on a Libyan beach on February 15, 2015, the mother of two brothers who were among those that were killed by the abductors has said that she is a “mother of martyrs” and exuded confidence that her sons are in heaven, praying for her family.
“I’m the mother of martyrs, I’m proud of them,” the woman told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), an international Catholic pastoral aid organization that collaborates with ACI Africa.
“They intercede for me and their father in heaven,” she said and added that she prays for ISIS followers, calling on “God to give them the light and open their eyes to the truth and the good.”
She is the mother of Samuel, 22 and Beshoy, 24, who are both believed to have died alongside 19 others because of their faith.
The kidnapped men were seized between December 2014 and January 2015 at the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya. Twenty of the men were Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt. The 21st victim was also a Christian from Ghana.
This would be followed, in February 2015, with a video that the Islamic State released showing the beheading of the Christians. The abductors reportedly confirmed what religion was written on their ID cards before taking the Christians hostage and letting Muslims go free.
It has also been reported that in the days leading to their deaths, ISIS captors tortured the men and attempted to coerce them to deny Jesus in return for their lives. They all refused. The men, during the execution, allegedly repeated the words, “Lord Jesus Christ.”
They have been declared martyrs by the Coptic Orthodox Church and a shrine built for them.
On Saturday, February 15, an exhibition in honor of the men is expected to be held at the shrine, marking five years since their beheading.
The exhibition documents the men’s story, from the time of their abduction to the return of their bodies to the village of Al Our, in Egypt’s Minya province, where the shrine is located.
Visitors will be shown the orange jumpsuits the men were wearing when they were beheaded, tools with which they were caught, some sand on which their blood was spilled, and the specially made coffins that hold their remains.
Father Abu Fanus Unan, who serves at the shrine, which is housed in the newly built Church of Faith and the Homeland, hinted to ACN about the history of martyrdom in the Coptic Church.
“The Coptic Church has a long history of martyrdom and has gone through many ages of persecution throughout its history,” said Fr. Abu Fanus and added, “We are proud of the blood of these martyrs who refused to recant their Christian faith.”
The Coptic Church honors many martyrs who died in centuries past, but the priest testified to the powerful impact of the witness of “contemporary martyrs who refused to recant the name of Jesus Christ. Their example strengthens our faith.”
Plans are underway to have a book documenting miracles that are attributed to the martyrs’ intercession published.
“There are many miracles in the village attributed to them. A woman with cancer was cured after her prayer at their shrine,” reported Father Abu Fanus, who added that many people were baptized and became Christians because of the example of the 21 martyrs.
“The Coptic Church survives thanks to the blood of her children,” the priest said.
According to Basheer, the brother of Samuel and Beshoy, who also spoke to ACN, the family of the abducted men had spent days praying for the men when they learnt of the abduction.
“Before the release of the ISIS video that showed the killing of my brothers and their colleagues, our family and the church in our village of Al Our had spent 45 days praying for them, as we knew of their kidnapping,” said Basheer, adding, “God talked through their cries of ‘oh Jesus,’ as recorded in the video.”
The victims’ brother added, “Our martyrs were praying before they died; it was obvious that they were calling on Jesus. That gave us comfort and made us proud. Those 21 were fortunate to be martyrs for Christ and our community is honored to have custody of their bodies.”
The bodies of the 21 were discovered in 2017. The remains of Matthew Ayariga from Ghana are still in Libya. The Libyan ambassador to Egypt has promised the body will be transferred to Egypt once the political situation in Libya stabilizes.
Basheer says the brave death of his brothers has given his family courage in the face of persecution.
“My father and mother felt relief when they became sure that their sons had kept their faith in Jesus Christ, who gave us much relief and comfort. My brothers have given us courage in the face of persecution; we are never afraid and never worry anymore.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa