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The 21 Egyptian Martyrs of Libya

By Sister Darlene DeMong, NDS


Theodore Ratisbonne, founder of the Sisters of Sion, wrote to Sister Lucie Marx Mayer on July 6, 1880, just two months after she had arrived in Alexandria for the new foundation in Egypt, “You know my sympathy for the happy country which sheltered the Holy Family. I do not think that any other country has produced so many saints.”

Saints continue to be “produced” in this country, the most recent being the 21 Martyrs of Libya. On Feb. 24, Wafaa and I attended a prayer service at College de la Salle sponsored by the Egypt Council of Churches for the 21 Egyptian martyrs. It was quite long with many speeches of heads of the different churches, a representative of the Sheikh of Al Azhar, a choir, even a popular singer.

But the most moving event came at the end of the program when many people had already left. There was a delegation of relatives of the martyrs from their villages in Minia and three of them spoke: a young Orthodox priest whose nephew and three cousins died, a man whose brother and another whose son were among the 21.

It was incredible. . . no bitterness, no hatred or need for revenge. . . beautiful. During this time an image had been projected on the screen which I eventually realized was an icon of the 21 martyrs with the one black African in the middle. It can be found at this link:

Many who spoke commented on the sounds coming from these men just before they were executed, which the IS didn’t bother to cover up or remove from the video: “ya yesua irhamni” — Jesus, have mercy on me!

Pope Tawadros II has announced that the martyrs’ names will be inserted into the Coptic Synaxarium, equivalent to the Roman Martyrology and the same as canonization in the Latin Church.

Someone in Berba, the village in the Minia region where we have a community, told me the story she saw on TV of the black African man, it seems from Chad, who was abducted and held with the Egyptians. He was so struck by their praying and singing hymns together that he wanted to be “one of them,” and indeed was beheaded with them.

I don’t know if this is a midrash but whatever the case he is now counted as one of 21 martyrs, having received the baptism of blood.

DeMong is a Sister of Our Lady of Sion. She hails from Cudworth, Sask., and is stationed in Cairo.