In February 2015, 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were killed by ISIS terrorists in Libya. Their throats were slit, simply for being Christians.
A group claiming loyalty to ISIS released a video on social media showing the brutal beheading, called “A Message Signed in Blood to the Nation of the Cross”. In this video the terrorists released a warning saying they were “south of Rome.”
The Coptic Church in Egypt is one of the oldest Christian Churches, founded by St Mark the Apostle. Coptic Christians have endured horrible persecutions over the centuries. This includes multiple bombings and attacks on Coptic Churches in recent years.
While the killings have stirred fears of the Islamic State’s close proximity to Europe, they have also strengthened many in their faith.
On Tuesday 24 February, St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Melbourne hosted an ecumenical service for the martyred Copts.
The service was led by His Grace Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne with a host of Coptic priests and deacons, along with clergymen from the Catholic, Anglican, and Evangelical churches, in what was a moving display of solidarity.
Vince Stefano, acting president of the Victorian DLP State Branch, attended the service on behalf of the Party and Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins, who was invited but had a parliamentary sitting at the time.
“I was struck by the way the Coptic community responded to the recent beheading”, Mr Stefano said. “Where you would expect people to be resentful and filled with justified anger, Bishop Suriel encouraged his community to forgive the terrorists, reminding them of Christ’s teaching to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ … It was a powerful experience in a very profound way.”
Bishop Suriel stated, “The Coptic Orthodox Church has a continued history of overcoming persecution peacefully. We will come together as a community to support each other and ensure our Church, one of the oldest Christian Churches in the world, can continue to thrive.”
During the service, the 21 Coptic martyrs were commemorated by attendants lighting a candle and placing it in front of a banner bearing an image of the martyrs’ faces.
“As I went up to light a candle, I felt a profound closeness to the Coptic people and their hopes and sufferings”, Mr Stefano remarked.
Bishop Suriel thanked the representatives from the various churches for the ongoing support they have provided the Coptic community. He also thanked people from the wider community who attended the service.
The Honourable Maria Vamvakinou MP attended the ceremony on behalf Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten. During the service, Bishop Suriel mentioned that Prime Minister Tony Abbott had sent a very heartfelt letter of support to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.
The DLP remains committed to religious freedom, solidarity with the isolated and oppressed, and to a livelihood that enhances the dignity and security of the person.