The Coptic Orthodox Church will dedicate on Thursday a new church to the 21 Martyrs of Libya, who were beheaded by the Islamic State, three years after their deaths.
The church will be opened Feb. 15, according to Fides News Agency. It is located in the village of al-Our in Egypt’s Minya Governorate. The village was home to 13 of the martyred men.
“Any way that the Church of today can honor her martyrs is a blessing. The story of these 21 brave men is worth telling. In way too many places Christians are under siege from the dark forces of extreme hatred, and their freedom is conditioned by this hatred,” Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn told CNA.
The church may someday house the 21 martyrs’ remains, which were identified in a mass grave on the Libyan coast in September.
The Coptic Orthodox Church recognized the 21 Coptic Christians as martyrs to be commemorated every Feb. 15 within only a week of their murder in 2015 along the Libyan coast, which was filmed by the Islamic State and released in an internet video.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.
Although Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi authorized the building of the new church, its construction in a village that is 70 percent Muslim has faced resistance.
“Some of the villagers protested and threw stones when construction started on the church. Churches are a sensitive subject throughout Egypt, even though about 10 percent of the population is Christian. It's hard to get permits to build them,” Jane Arraf of NPR reported from al-Our.
Christians in Egypt face a constant threat of violence. Earlier this week, a man was found guilty of stabbing Coptic Orthodox priest, Samaan Shehata, to death last October.
On Palm Sunday last year, two Islamic State suicide bombings at Coptic churches in Egypt claimed the lives of 47 people.
“We pray for our Coptic brethren as they continue to witness to their beautiful faith and way of life in Christ Jesus. They live in the most terrifying of circumstances, never knowing the hour or the place of the next attack. May the prayers of the Mother of God be their comfort and strength,” said Bishop Mansour, who continued: “Egypt was the first place of refuge for the holy family and continues to be a place of refuge for God’s holy family, mystically present in his Coptic Christians.”
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