Coptic Christian women attend a Feb. 17 service in Cairo for the Egyptians said to have been beheaded in Libya. A video released on social media Feb. 15 is said to show the beheadings. CNS photo/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters

21 slain Egyptian Copt martyrs had their cross to bear

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • March 4, 2015

MONTREAL - Christians have always faced various degrees of persecution through the centuries and should always be prepared to wear  “the crown of martyrdom,” a Coptic leader in Montreal told his congregation Feb. 28 during a memorial Mass honouring  21 Egyptians who were beheaded on a beach in Libya by jihadists in mid-February.

“The only reason these men were butchered is because they were followers of Christ,” said Fr. Khalil Aziz, the pastor of St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church.

“Why does Christ permit the faithful to die like this? It is because as Christians we are asked to shoulder a cross. Without a cross there can be no Christianity. Beginning with Christ Himself, Christians are called to sacrifice. No generation of Christians has escaped persecution.” 

And during the period of Lent, he said, we should consider this: Anyone who is not prepared to carry the cross cannot consider themselves to be disciples of Christ.

Aziz was speaking during a service attended by the Egyptian Consul General Amal Salama, bishops and archbishops of various denominations, including Montreal’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Christian Lepine, various dignitaries and imams.

The church was packed for the three-hour, incense-sweet liturgy, which was celebrated in Arabic, French and English. Portraits of the 21 victims, each wearing a martyr’s crown, lined both sides of the centre aisle. Nine priests concelebrated the Mass with Aziz.

There are an estimated 140,000 Copts in Canada, a third of them in Montreal.

Lepine said that while he stands in solidarity with his Coptic brethren, no one should forget that 200 million Christians around the world are persecuted for the faith.

“Solidarity is important even though your heart is broken. Solidarity is a call to pray, but it is also a call to be informed, to work for peace and to work for justice,” Lepine said. “The power of love will always triumph over violence. “

Lepine added that just as Christ on the Cross pardoned His killers, we are called to prayer and to pardon, not to forgive the act but to forgive the killers.

Mohamed Ashmawy, the imam with Montreal’s Al Salam Mosque, said he was present in the church to express his condolences to the Christian community.

“When Christians in Egypt have problems, we sympathize with them, we do not want to see war between our religions,” he said.

He was one of three imams who left before the bread and wine was consecrated.

Veteran Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia said he was proud to have two Coptic churches in his Lac-Saint-Louis constituency. 

“We will overcome these terrible forces of evil,” he declared. “I am a Roman Catholic, but all of us share the same universal values, the same  message of hope for peace and security.”

A statement from Jason Kenney, the Minister of National Defence and Multiculturalism, was read during the service. It said Canada and its allies are “firmly committed to the fight against Daesh. We will not be intimidated.” (Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS/ISIL, which claimed responsibility for the beheadings.)

(Hustak is a freelance writer in Montreal.)

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