Exactly three years after the beheading of 21 Christians on a Libyan beach horrified the world, a new church in the Egyptian village of Al-Aour has been dedicated in their memory.
SAT-7 filmed the packed inauguration service (15 February) at the new Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland, and will broadcast this online on 22 February and via satellite TV on 1 March.
Of the 21 Christian expatriate labourers executed by so-called Islamic State, one was Ghanaian and the others Egyptian, 13 of them coming from the Minya village of Al-Aour.
Over 500 Coptic Christians who had travelled from across Minya governorate crowded into the church for a dedication service led by Bishop Bevnotious, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Samalout.
The spacious building with a high tower in traditional Coptic style was funded by the Egyptian government. In February 2015, President Al-Sisi had promised a new church to the 2,500 Christians in the 6,000-population village soon after news of the men’s execution had been released by their so-called Islamic State killers.
Joy and tears
In a service that mixed joy and tears, one of the most poignant moments occurred when Bishop Bevnotious anointed the altar, inscribed with the names of all 21 of the young Christian martyrs on its sides.
“Today we remember our martyrs who were killed in Libya three years ago,” the bishop said. “Knives were held to their throats to deny their faith after forty days of being kidnapped, insulted, and threatened. But like the martyrs of every era in the history of our church, they held on to Christ. They are an example for us to hold on to our faith and to Christ regardless of circumstances.”
Photographs of the 21 were displayed in front of the church as the bishop affirmed “They are now in heaven praying for us”. He went on to remind worshippers of the approximately 120 other Coptic Christians killed in terrorist attacks on Egyptian soil since December 2016.
The sister of slain labourer Malak Ibrahim expressed her joy at seeing the new church and knowing that her brother had maintained his faith in Christ to the end: “We are very happy. The church is beautiful. Thank God for it. I had seen the video of my brother three days after it happened because I didn’t know that he was martyred. When my husband told me the news, I thanked God. The video was very difficult for us to see, but we thank God.”
The mother of Essam, another of the 21, said, “Thank God for this wonderful church. We couldn’t have wished for more. Yes, we are in pain, but God gives us great consolation. When they announced the name of my son during the mass, I gave an ululation and congratulated the martyrs on their heavenly reward.”
Nashwa Louis, the SAT-7 director who filmed the event, said he had expected to find villagers “sad and grieving, but they were joyous and consoled. The church is magnificent and huge and it was filled with people. Even the area outside was crowded with Christians from the village. They were overjoyed so much it felt like a celebration.”
The TV transmission of the church dedication will feature in Revisions, a series hosted by Maher Fayez, the same SAT-7 presenter who spoke to Beshir Kamel, brother of martyrs Bishoy and Samuel in a remarkable interview on 18 February three years ago. After speaking of his pride in the faith of his brothers, he prayed for their killers, saying “Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to leave their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught”.
Revisions is a discussion show, opening up questions of faith and theology and one of the diverse programmes produced by SAT-7’s Egypt studio. Across five channels broadcasting in Arabic, Farsi and Turkish, SAT-7 gives a voice to the Middle East and North African Church, providing Christian and educational programmes to over 21 million viewers.
Notes to Editors:
Launched in 1996, with its international headquarters in Cyprus, SAT-7 broadcasts Christian and educational satellite television to an audience of at least 21 million people in the Middle East and North Africa, tackling the most pressing and evolving development issues in the region. SAT-7 broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish languages on six channels.