Work begins on church to honour Coptic Christians martyred by ISIS

A church dedicated to the lives of the 21 Coptic Christians martyred by Islamic State earlier this year is being built in Egypt.

The foundation stone was laid in the Coptic-Orthodox Diocese of Samalout this week, where the martyrs were from. Bishop Paphnutius told Aid to the Church in Need that the diocese was "extremely proud" of those who were killed.

"Although they were forced to kneel before their executioners, they were the stronger. Their murderers were the weaker, despite their weapons. Why would they have concealed their faces otherwise? It could only have been because they were afraid. Our sons by contrast were very strong and called on our Lord until their very last breath."

He continued: "The Church has always known that the blood of martyrs is the seed of faith. It will remain so until the end of time.

"From Alexandria to Aswan, throughout Egypt, Christians have been strengthened in their faith. Muslims from all over have also told us that they are proud; they say that our martyrs have shown that we Egyptians are very strong. Their death fills all of us, Christians and Muslims alike, with pride."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi authorised the church building after ISIS released a video in February showing the 21 men being beheaded in Libya.

The five-minute video was titled: "A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross" and the men identified as "people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian Church."

Following their murder, many in the Coptic Community, including relatives, said they were thankful the men had held onto their faith.

In a video posted online by International Christian Concern, the mother of Malid Makeen Zaky said: "I thank God that my son kept the faith and died for the cross, because he was the son of Christ from his birth, not my son...We thank God that he kept the faith."

A video from the SAT-7 Arabic TV station featuring the brother of one of the men killed was also widely shared. The last words of some of those murdered were "Lord Jesus Christ" and Beshir Kamel said the men's show of faith has strengthened his own.

The families of the martyrs were "congratulating one another" and not in despair, he added. "We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs," he told the programme.

"Since the Roman era, Christians have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way. This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us."

Speaking to Christian Today in the aftermath of the murders, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK said it was vital that Christians offer forgiveness to Islamic State.

"That's our mandate, it's what we do. I don't see it as being difficult," Bishop Angaelos said.

"Of course it will sometimes go against what people want, but as Christians we must forgive. I will continue to advocate for people who are oppressed, and to stand up for those who do not have a voice of their own, but when it comes to crimes perpetrated against us, there is only one way forward, and that is to forgive. If we don't forgive what do we have? Retaliation, resentment and anger, but no solution and no closure."