Pope Francis honored 21 Christians who were killed by the so-called Islamic State in Libya in 2015.
In a video message on Feb. 15 during the sixth anniversary of the killings, the pope called those who died “witnesses of Jesus.”
“They are our saints, saints of all Christians, saints of all Christian denominations and traditions,” the pope said in his message.
“They are those who have blanched their lives in the blood of the Lamb, they are those… of the people of God, the faithful people of God,” he added.
Pope Francis said that the 21 Christians who “bore witness to Jesus Christ” were “ordinary men” who went abroad to support their families.
“Ordinary men, fathers of families, men with the desire to have children; men with the dignity of workers, who not only seek to bring home bread, but to bring it home with the dignity of work,” he said.
“Their throats slit by the brutality of [the Islamic State], they died saying, ‘Lord Jesus!’ confessing the name of Jesus,” the pope said.
Pope Francis said that even though their death was a tragedy, the place where they died was “blessed by their blood.”
He added that it is even more true that “from their simplicity, from their simple but consistent faith, they received the greatest gift a Christian can receive: bearing witness to Jesus Christ to the point of giving their life.”
Expressing gratitude to God for the gift of these “courageous brothers,” the pope thanked the Holy Spirit for giving them the “strength and the consistency” to confess Jesus even to the point of shedding their blood.
The pope also acknowledged the bishops and priests of the Coptic Church who “raised them and taught them to grow in the faith.”
Turning his attention to their mothers, the pope expressed thanks for their role in nursing them in the faith.
“They are the mothers of God’s holy people who transmit the faith ‘in dialect’,” said Pope Francis. “A dialect that goes beyond languages, the dialect of belonging.”
In February 2015, the so-called Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of 21 men — 20 Coptic Christians, along with a Ghanaian Christian companion — who were dressed as prisoners wearing orange jumpsuits and handcuffs.
As they were killed, the men were heard praying to Jesus.
Their bodies were later recovered in October 2017 after one of the perpetrators was caught by Libyan authorities and revealed the location.
The remains of the Egyptian Coptic Christians were repatriated to Egypt on May 14, and their plane was met by Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The Coptic Church declared the murdered men to be martyrs, and their feast day is observed on Feb. 15.
Although not officially proclaiming them saints, Pope Francis also called the men “martyrs” in the days following their death.