Pope Francis adds Coptic Orthodox martyrs to liturgical book of saints

Pope Francis said May 11 that the Coptic Orthodox martyrs killed by ISIS in 2015 will be added to the Catholic Church’s official list of saints. He also received a relic of the martyrs’ blood as a gift.“I am glad to announce today that, with the consent of Your Holiness, these 21 martyrs will be inserted into the Roman Martyrology as a sign of the spiritual communion uniting our two Churches,” Francis said in a speech to the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Pope Tawadros II.

The Roman Martyrology is an official list of the saints and blesseds, including martyrs, recognized in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. The list is ordered according to the Church’s calendar of feast days.

The pope met with Tawadros II and other Coptic Orthodox representatives at the Vatican in mid-May.

In his speech, Pope Francis said he had “no words” to express his gratitude for the Orthodox leader’s gift of relics of the Coptic martyrs, who were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Libya on Feb. 15, 2015.

“May the prayer of the Coptic martyrs, united with that of the Theotokos, continue to grow the friendship between our Churches, until the blessed day when we can celebrate together at the same altar and commune in the same Body and Blood of the Savior, ‘that the world may believe,’” Pope Francis said, according to a Catholic News Agency report.

Tawadros II said the Coptic Orthodox Church has recognized the holiness of the Coptic martyrs, and celebrates them with other modern martyrs every eighth of Amshir, the sixth month of the Coptic calendar, which roughly corresponds to February 15 on the Gregorian calendar used by the Catholic Church.

“Today we hand over part of their relics, dipped in their blood shed in the name of Christ for the Church, so that they may be remembered in the martyrology of all the Churches of the world, and know ‘we too’ are ‘surrounded by such a multitude of witnesses,’” he said.

“Precisely because the saints are one of the main pillars of our Churches, beginning with the apostles Peter, Paul, and Mark,” Tawadros said, “we now write in the martyrology of the

Churches the new martyrs who have guarded the faith and bore witness to Christ, who did not lose heart in the face of torture and passed on to us a living example in martyrdom.

The meeting between Pope Francis and Tawadros II, which also included a private conversation, concluded with prayer in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

The encounter was one of several events marking the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting between St. Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, which was a turning point in relations between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches.

On May 10, Pope Francis and Tawadros II held the Vatican’s weekly public audience together, each expressing his gratitude for the friendship of the two Churches.

That day also marked the 10th commemoration of the “Day of Coptic-Catholic Friendship.”

On May 10, 1973, St. Paul VI and Tawadros’ predecessor, Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, signed a joint declaration that marked a major development in relations between the Latin Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

While in Rome, Tawadros II will also celebrate an Orthodox Divine Liturgy at the Papal Basilica of St. John Lateran and visit the local Coptic Orthodox community.

The Catholic Church recognizes the validity of the Orthodox Church’s sacraments.

Tawadros II, 70, is the 118th pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. There are an estimated 10 million Coptic Orthodox Christians in the world, roughly 90 percent of whom live in Egypt.