This past weekend, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) released a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya.
The international community quickly condemned the actions of ISIS, this slaughter of Christians being only the latest violent act perpetrated by this group. Recently, ISIS has been responsible for the death of several journalists and international aid workers, including James Foley and Kayla Mueller.
Pope Francis was among the first to speak out against the beheadings. This past Monday, the pope met with representatives of the Church of Scotland. After concluding his planned speech in Italian, he switched to his native Spanish and expressed his sorrow over the news of the execution of the Coptic Christians.
“They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians,” Francis said. “The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard.”
Earlier in his speech, the pope talked about how all Christians are pilgrims. “We journey alongside one another. Only by working together will we be able effectively to serve the human family and enable the light of Christ to reach every dark corner of our hearts and of our world.”
These words, originally written to share with the delegation from the Church of Scotland, proved to be especially true in the light of this weekend’s violence in Libya. The pope reaffirmed the universal nature of the Christian church and downplayed denominational differences during the Spanish closing of his speech.
“It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants; they are Christians. Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”
Pope Francis also exhorted the church to draw courage from the example of these martyrs: Egyptian migrant workers kidnapped and killed in a region of Libya where ISIS has significant influence.
“As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each other to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians,” said Pope Francis.
The pope concluded with a blessing in Italian, applicable to the Church of Scotland, Christians in the Middle East and to the church around the world:
“Let us pray for one another and continue to advance in the way of wisdom, good will, strength and peace.”