Their story is the same as the Acts of the Martyrs of the first centuries. Killed by the sword of Islam out of pure hatred for their Christian faith
by Sandro Magister
ROME, March 2, 2015 – They refused to worship false gods, they remained strong in the faith of their baptism, they were decapitated while calling upon the name of Jesus.
The twenty-one Egyptian Christians killed in Libya by the militias of the Islamic caliphate have entered immediately into the ranks of the saints. The patriarch of the Coptic Church, Tawadros II, has had their memory inscribed in the Synaxarium, the martyrology of the Coptic Church, with a feast on the eighth day of the month of Amshir, which corresponds to February 15 of the Gregorian calendar.
It is the day on which the caliphate issued the video of their killing. And on the Coptic liturgical calendar it coincides with the feast of the presentation of Jesus at the temple.
In the video, everyone has been able to note that at the moment of decapitation, some of them were calling upon the name of Jesus in Arabic and whispering prayers. The most distinct words were from Milad Saber, the son of farmers from a village in central Egypt. He was unmarried, while most of his companions were married, with one or more small children. Fifteen came from Al-Our and six from other villages of the same region, around the town of Samalut. More than eighty of their companions are still in Libya, originating from these same villages.
It is a region with a strong Christian presence and with a very ancient church that is a pilgrimage destination, high on a bank of the Nile, where tradition says that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus stayed during their flight into Egypt.
And it is also a region, with its local capital in Minya, in which the Copts have often been the target, even in recent times, of hostility and aggression from Muslims, with little or no protection from the security forces.
But many things have changed in the days since their martyrdom. The Egyptian prime minister, together with six other ministers, visited one by one the homes of the parents, wives, and children of those killed, and said that he is “proud that Egypt has these martyrs in paradise.” He pledged to the Christians: “All of you are a great value for the nation. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for all the sons of Egypt.” He has announced that he will have a church built at state expense in memory of the martyrs in the village of Al-Our.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi wasn’t far behind. He has announced the construction of a church in honor of the martyrs in Minya itself, the capital of central Egypt in which numerous Coptic churches still bear the signs of the latest attacks carried out by Muslim fanatics.
But this is only the most recent of the surprises produced by general Al-Sisi, who rose to power after overturning the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is very hostile toward the Copts.
Al-Sisi is not an expression of the military “secularism” represented by the previous “rais” of Egypt, from Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak.
He too comes from the highest ranks of the military. But he has always been and still is a fervent Muslim, and precisely for this – it appears – was placed at the head of the army during the ephemeral presidency of Mohammed Morsi, by that same Muslim Brotherhood which now has him under its thumb.
He knows the Quran by heart and quotes it in every speech, prays, fasts at the appointed times, has a wife who wears the veil and a daughter who wears the complete niqab.
But he was also the model student who in the United States in 2006, at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania, wrote a doctoral thesis on democracy and the Islamic world, judging them as compatible.
“We went to the same mosque and he was the most informed of anyone on Islamic history,” Sherifa Zuhur, one of his American professors, told Giulio Meotti of “il Foglio.” “Al-Sisi opposed Islamic extremism not only because this clashes with the West, but also because it has divided Muslims and has done great harm to their capacity to reinterpret the faith in line with modern humanitarian principles. And instead of assisting the development of the Arab region it has led to its disintegration.”
And in fact against Al-Sisi, pragmatic and pious, a fatwa has already gone out from those who want him dead, after the explosive historic speech he gave at the end of December at the major Islamic university of Al-Azhar and after his attendance at Christmas Mass in the Coptic cathedral of Cairo, an unprecedented action.
A “revolution in Islam” is how his actions have been described by the Islamologist Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian Jesuit who teaches at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and at the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome.
But here are the names of the twenty-one Coptic martyrs killed in Libya by the caliphate’s executioners:
Milad Saber Mounir Adly Saad, bachelor from Menbal village;
Sameh Salah Farouq, married, one child, from Manqarius village;
Ezzat Boshra Nassif, married, with one son of 4 years, from Dafash village;
Mina Shehata Awad, from Al-Farouqeyya village;
Louqa Nagati Anis Abdou, 27 years, married, with a baby of 10 months;
Essam Baddar Samir Ishaq, bachelor; both from al-Gabaly village.
And from Al-Our village:
Hany Abdal-Massih Salib, married, three daughters and one son;
Guergues Milad Sanyut, bachelor;
Tawadraus Youssef Tawadraus, married, three children from 7 to 13 years old;
Kyrillos Boschra Fawzy, bachelor;
Magued Soliman Shehata, married, two daughters and a son;
Mina Fayez Aziz, bachelor;
Samouïl Alham Wilson, married, three children, 6, 4 and 2 years old;
Bishoï Stephanos Kamel, bachelor;
Samouïl Stephanos Kamel, brother of the latter, bachelor;
Malak Abram Sanyut, married, three children;
Milad Makin Zaky, married, one daughter;
Abanub Ayyad Ateyya Shehata, bachelor;
Guergues Samir Megally Zakher, bachelor;
Youssef Shukry Younan, bachelor;
Malak Farag Ibrahim, married, a baby daughter.
Naturally, these are not the only Christians to have fallen victim to the hatred that many Muslims nurture towards the “apostates” from true Islam, equated with the form that they profess.
The latest in the series are the Armenian, Syriac, and especially Assyrian Christians of thirty-five villages in the far northeast of Syria along the Khabur river, occupied in recent days by the army of the caliphate.
Dozens killed, hundreds taken hostage, thousands who have fled abandoning everything.
The irony of history is that the grandparents of these Christians took refuge there in the 1930’s to escape the massacres of which they were victims in the newly formed Iraq.
“Abandoned by all, this is their sentiment,” the Vatican nuncio in Damascus, Archbishop Mario Zenari, has said.
In effect, these Christians do not have their armed men, they do not have Kurds, Sunnis, or Shiites to defend them, they have no support from the international anti-caliphate coalition. They are truly the least of the least, with the sole comfort of Christians in other countries – for example, through Aid to the Church in Need – who offer them basic assistance in the places where they find refuge.