Pope Francis deviated from prepared remarks during a visit from the Church of Scotland, expressing deep sadness over the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach by the Islamic State. (Reuters)

Pope Francis on Monday condemned the Islamic State’s purported beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, calling those killed “martyrs who belong to all Christians.”

“Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians,” Pope Francis said, addressing leaders in the Church of Scotland. “Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me!’ They were killed simply because they were Christians.”

ISIS released a video Sunday which it claimed showed the execution of the Coptic Christians, who were being held hostage by the terrorist organization.

“The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a witness that cries out to be heard,” the pope said. “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants,” the pope said, according to a Vatican transcript. “They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”


A man is comforted by others Monday as he mourns over Egyptian Coptic Christians who were captured in Libya and killed by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group. Egyptian warplanes struck Islamic State targets in Libya on Monday in swift retribution for the extremists’ beheading of a group of Egyptian Christian hostages on a beach, shown in a grisly online video released hours earlier. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The Pope urged Christians toward ecumenicism, or unity in Christian faith. “As we recall these brothers and sisters who were killed only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage one another to go forward with this ecumenism that is emboldening us, the ecumenism of blood,” he said. “The martyrs belong to all Christians.”

Today, Pope Francis called the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, to express his condolences. He promised he would pray for them today and tomorrow.

American evangelicals were among those who used their social media platforms to express sadness and concern over the ISIS beheadings. Many users are changing their Twitter avatars to 21, representing the number of Christians killed.

ISIS posted a video headlined, “a message signed with blood to the nation of the cross,” an image that has gone viral in many Christian circles. Some were upset that the White House statement did not mention that the Egyptians were Christians.

Several responded to the news with prayers, including Seattle pastor Eugene Cho.

Others posted Bible verses or references, including Matthew Milliner, an art history professor at Wheaton College.

Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American Muslim, tweeted that ISIS “savages will burn in an eternal hell.”

A Christian militia has formed to fight ISIS, Reuters reports (video).

Thousands of foreigners have flocked to Iraq and Syria in the past two years, mostly to join the Islamic State, but a handful of idealistic Westerners are enlisting as well, citing frustration their governments are not doing more to combat the ultra-radical Islamists or prevent the suffering of innocents.

The militia they joined is called Dwekh Nawsha – meaning self-sacrifice in the ancient Aramaic language spoken by Christ and still used by Assyrian Christians, who consider themselves the indigenous people of Iraq.

Coptic Christians represent the largest concentration of Christians in the Middle East, making up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. Explains Christianity Today:

Coptic Orthodox were rejected as “Monophysites”—believers in Christ’s one nature to the point of denying his humanity. Two centuries later, Islamic invasions isolated Egypt from Christendom, and the Coptic Orthodox faded from Western consciousness until the colonial era, when Egypt opened to both Protestant and Catholic missionaries. Today a sizeable Coptic diaspora exists in the West, including about 200,000 Coptic Christians in the United States.

Atef Gendy has inherited the Protestant legacy, serving as president of the evangelical seminary. He elaborates on the “fuzziness” of his colleague Nygard’s definition.

“The accurate definition of Coptic is the ethnic identity of Christians of Egypt, but the common understanding is of the Orthodox, due to their status as the oldest church.”