27 February 2018, The Tablet

New church dedicated in Egypt to the 21 Christian martyrs

3 years after the 21 Christians were beheaded on a Libyan beach, a new church was dedicated in their memory

New church dedicated in Egypt to the 21 Christian martyrs

Exactly three years after the beheading of 21 Christians on a Libyan beach horrified the world, a new church in the Egyptian village of Al-Aour has been dedicated in their memory.

The packed inauguration service at the new Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland on 15 Feb came three years after the kidnap and then brutal beheading of the 21 men. A week later, they were declared martyrs by Pope Tawadros II, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

Of the 21 Christian expatriate labourers executed by so-called Islamic State, one was Ghanaian and the others Egyptian, 13 of them coming from the Minya village of Al-Aour. More than 500 Coptic Christians who had travelled from across Minya governorate crowded into the church for the dedication service led by Bishop Bevnotious, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Samalout.

The church, with a high tower in traditional Coptic style, was funded by the Egyptian government. President Al-Sisi promised the new church to the village's 2,500 Christians, more than a third of the total population of 6000, soon after the beheadings.

As Bishop Bevnotious anointed the altar, inscribed with the names of all 21 of the young Christian martyrs on its sides, he said: “Today we remember our martyrs who were killed in Libya three years ago. Knives were held to their throats to deny their faith after 40 days of being kidnapped, insulted, and threatened. But like the martyrs of every era in the history of our church, they held on to Christ. They are an example for us to hold on to our faith and to Christ regardless of circumstances.”

Photographs of the 21 were displayed in front of the church. The Bishop said: “They are now in heaven praying for us”.

He also referred to the 120 other Coptic Christians killed in terrorist attacks in Egypt since December 2016.

The sister of one of those murdered, Malak Ibrahim, told SAT-7, the Christian satellite network who filmed and broadcast the service: “We are very happy. The church is beautiful. Thank God for it. I had seen the video of my brother three days after it happened because I didn’t know that he was martyred. When my husband told me the news, I thanked God. The video was very difficult for us to see, but we thank God.”

The mother of Essam, another of the 21, said: “Thank God for this wonderful church. We couldn’t have wished for more. Yes, we are in pain, but God gives us great consolation. When they announced the name of my son during the mass, I gave an ululation and congratulated the martyrs on their heavenly reward.”

Nashwa Louis, the director who filmed the event, said he had expected to find villagers "sad and grieving" but instead they seemed consoled. He said: "The church is magnificent and huge and it was filled with people. Even the area outside was crowded with Christians from the village. They were overjoyed so much it felt like a celebration.”

The church dedication broadcast will feature in Revisions, a SAT-7 discussion show on faith and theology hosted by Maher Fayez, the same presenter who spoke to Beshir Kamel, brother of two other martyrs in an interview on 18 February three years ago. After speaking of his pride in the faith of his brothers, Bishoy and Samuel, Beshir prayed for their killers, saying: “Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to leave their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught”.


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