Peter Pay, Moderator of the URC General Assembly, talks about an eye-opening commemoration for persecuted Christians that he attended:
I was recently invited to represent the United Reformed Church by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Coptic Orthodox Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and a distinguished panel of guests to mark Contemporary Martyrs Day on 15 February . The event was held in remembrance of the 21 Libyan martyrs and members of the Coptic Orthodox Church who lost their lives in 2015 as a result of religious persecution. Pope Francis also contributed on the day.
I have to admit, my first reaction was that I was not aware of this event, but on checking I discovered that a five-minute video had been published showing the beheading of the 21 Christian (mainly Coptic) captives by ISIS on a beach along the southern Mediterranean coast.
A caption in the video called the captives the ‘People of the Cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church’. Few people I have mentioned this to have heard of the outrage. It leads me to wonder what else I may be unaware of.
Speaking on the significance of this day, Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, said: “While the barbaric murder of these 21 men on the shores of Libya was incredibly painful, not only for the Coptic Orthodox Church, but people of all faiths and none around the world, it was an opportunity for them to practically demonstrate their courage and dignity while practicing their faith to, quite literally, their last breath.”
The Coptic Orthodox Church is in a unique place, through its own experience of persecution across the centuries, to speak for those of all faiths and none who continue to suffer today. It is for this reason that we will gather to raise awareness and advocate for those who are not able to speak for themselves.
According to the Bishop of Truro’s report, approximately 80% of the world’s persecuted religious believers are Christian. This webinar allowed for reflection and discussion around the ongoing plight of those who continue to face persecution as a result of their Christian faith, as well as of those of all faiths and none.
I am grateful to have been able to participate in this remembrance event alongside many church and faith leaders. It certainly opened my eyes. In addition, it was heartening to hear speakers, including Pope Francis and the Most Revd Justin Welby, express solidarity with persecuted Christians of all denominations and people of all faiths who are persecuted. They specifically mentioned Muslim people, especially those from Riga and the Rohingya people.
May we hold all in our prayers.
Peter Pay, March 2021