February 23, 2015
CAROL GLATZ
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis called for prayers for the Egyptian Christians beheaded by Islamic State militants in Libya and asked that God recognize these men killed for their faith.

He offered morning Mass Feb. 17 in the chapel of his residence for the slain Christians he termed "our 21 brother Copts" whose throats had been slit "for the sole reason of being Christians."

The pope requested that people pray for the victims so "that the Lord welcome them as martyrs."

He called on people to pray as well for the victims' families and for Egypt's Orthodox leader, Pope Tawadros II, "who is suffering so much." Pope Francis called Pope Tawadros Feb. 16 to express his sorrow over the deaths.

Egypt, meanwhile, mourned its 21 nationals, who had been working in Libya when the extremist group kidnapped them. Their beheading was depicted in gruesome detail in a video released Feb. 15 on a pro-Islamic State website.

The same evening in a nationally televised speech, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on his country's government to provide full support to the families of the victims and said Egypt maintained the right to retaliate.

Soon afterward, the Egyptian air force began bombing what it said were Islamic State targets in Libya.

GRATITUDE TO AIR FORCE

In a statement issued Feb. 16 by the Coptic Catholic Church, Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria, Egypt, extended his Church's "deepest sympathies" to the families and relatives of the murdered Christians.

In apparent reference to the retaliatory military action his country has since taken, Patriarch Sedrak also extended his Church's "deepest gratitude" to al-Sisi and "our country's loyal armed forces, especially the air forces, for the rapid response."

"Egyptian blood is valuable and honourable," he said.

Speaking after the video of the beheadings surfaced – but before the strikes against Islamic State in Libya were announced – Pope Tawadros offered his church's condolences to the relatives of the slain Christian migrant workers.