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Welby fears for future after murder of Ethiopians

24 April 2015


Grieving: a woman mourns with the picture of a man said to be among the 30 Ethiopian victims killed by the IS in Libya, on Tuesday

Grieving: a woman mourns with the picture of a man said to be among the 30 Ethiopian victims killed by the IS in Libya, on Tuesday

A FRESH atrocity was committed last weekend by Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Libya - the murder of 30 Ethiopian Christians - just as the Archbishop of Canterbury was in Egypt to express condolence for the killing in February of 21 Copts, also in Libya.

The latest video from IS shows one group of Ethiopians being beheaded on a Libyan beach, and another being shot in a desert area.

The 29-minute-long video also denounced the various branches of Christianity, and showed IS militants destroying the contents of churches in a number of unspecified locations. A masked man then repeated the warning issued to Christians in Iraq last year: that they should convert to Islam, or pay a protection tax. Failure to choose one of these options would result in death.

Archbishop Welby learned about the murder of the Ethiopians while in Cairo. In a BBC interview soon after, he said that he had been "as shocked and horrified by what we've been hearing this afternoon as by anything over the past few months. There seems to have been an overflow of evil into this region." He believed that IS was "deeply evil, even to its own supporters if they stray one inch off what is seen as the right road".

But helping Christians in the Middle East who were endangered by IS presented a dilemma: "Simply to turn our backs on people in such struggle and suffering is totally unacceptable. Equally, to say the simple solution is that 'You will leave that area and come to our place' - we all know that that is, again, an invitation to ethnic cleansing on a grand scale.

"When you talk to Christian leaders in the region, they say they want their communities to exist: they don't want Christianity in North Africa and the Middle East to be a mere footnote in history."

Asked if he was worried that Christianity might be dying in the region, Archbishop Welby replied: "Yes, unquestionably. Every time I come to this region, that concern is reinforced."

During his brief visit to Cairo, Archbishop Welby had an opportunity to raise such issues, as he expressed condolences for the deaths of the Coptic Christians in Libya, and expressed solidarity with Middle Eastern Christianity.

Hosted by the President-Bishop in the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, Archbishop Welby visited the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, delivering letters of condolence from the relatives of British victims of IS terrorism.

He also met the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, and the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. On Sunday evening, the Archbishop preached at a joint Egyptian-Sudanese eucharist in All Saints' Cathedral, Cairo.

The killing of 30 Christians in Libya was widely condemned. Pope Francis, in a message to Patriarch Abune Matthias, of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, said that it was with "great distress and sadness" that he had learned of "the further shocking violence perpetrated against innocent Christians in Libya.

"I reach out to you in heartfelt spiritual solidarity to assure you of my closeness in prayer at the continuing martyrdom being so cruelly inflicted on Christians in Africa, the Middle East and some parts of Asia."

The Anglican Bishop for Ethiopia, the Rt Revd Grant LeMarquand, wrote a letter to all churches in the country condemning the horrifying "act of violence against those that IS calls 'people of the cross'."

The terrorists involved had, he said, exhibited "the worst of human depravity; but they have also revealed their desperate need of a saviour. The apostle Paul . . . was turned to love by his experience of meeting Christ on his way to the Syrian city of Damascus. May God use his Church to so act and speak of and from the love of Christ that many former or potential persecutors may be turned and have their names written in the book of life."

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said that he was deeply saddened by the news. Such cold-blooded killings "that unnecessarily and unjustifiably claim the lives of innocent people, wholly undeserving of this brutality, have unfortunately become far too familiar. Once again, we see innocent Christians murdered purely for refusing to renounce their faith."

A spokeswoman for the US National Security Council expressed outrage at the "brutal mass murder". The atrocity, she said, "once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya".

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