Remains of one of the 21 beheaded on a Libyan beach in 2015 still unburied

01 March 2019

Coptic Church pursues international law to have the remains repatriated to Egypt

Archbishop Angaelos (left) and Martin Mosebach at the launch of The 21: A journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs

Archbishop Angaelos (left) and Martin Mosebach at the launch of The 21: A journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs

ONE of the 21 men beheaded on a Libyan beach in 2015 remained unburied because there were no relatives to collect his remains, the Coptic Archbishop of London, Archbishop Angaelos, said last week.

Speaking at the launch of a book commemorating the lives of the 21 men beheaded by Islamic State jihadists, Archbishop Angaelos said that the Coptic Church was “pursuing international law” to have the remains of the one Ghanaian in the group, Matthew Areaga, repatriated to Egypt.

The cover of the book, The 21: A journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs, by the German author Martin Mosebach (Books, 15 February), has a still from the video that showed black-clad IS members beheading the 21 Christians, dressed in orange jumpsuits to evoke Muslims being held at Guantánamo Bay.

The 20 Egyptian Copts, whom Archbishop Angaelos praised as “infinitely more powerful than those who stood over them”, were buried last May in the village of Al-Our, in Minya province, where most of the victims came from. The state-funded Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland, in Al-Our, was built to house their remains. Coptic Pope Tawadros declared all 21 saints six days after the video’s release.

Archbishop Angaelos said that Matthew Areaga had no family members there.

A spokeswoman explained that the Coptic Church was hoping to lobby the Libyan authorities through the Egyptian authorities to have Mr Areaga buried in Egypt alongside the other 20 men.

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, introducing the event on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the footage showed that “martyrdom is a contemporary reality rather than just a relic of the ancient world.”

Mr Mosebach, a Roman Catholic, said that he had found a “purity” in Coptic Christianity in its attitude to martyrdom akin to that of the Early Church during the bloody reigns of the Roman Emperors Nero or Diocletian. “Western Christianity has been concerned for centuries with bringing faith and reason and philosophy together. . . These are things nobody cares for there [in Egypt].” Mr Mosebach likened the Copts to the “very direct” beggar whose focus was to reach out and touch Jesus’s cloak.

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The Egyptian ambassador, Tarek Adel, told the audience of mainly Copts, clergy, and members of the Bruderhof, which published the book’s English translation, that the day after the massacre he had called for a meeting of the Arab League, to which he was then Egypt’s representative, and prepared a resolution “to condemn the terrorist act and to express solidarity with the Egyptian people”.

He said: “Unfortunately, one party, Qatar, expressed reservation in condemning this act, and did not express support to the Egyptian government.” Egypt is one of several Arab states that have accused Qatar of funding terrorism, and has cut diplomatic ties.

The Primate of the Armenian Church of the UK and Ireland, Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, noted that the massacre had taken place a century after the Armenian genocide, and asked how far people were prepared to pursue justice on behalf of martyrs. He said: “Our reluctance and failure in condemning the crimes of the past has become the root causes of the modern crisis of human suffering.”

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