Of all the images circulated across news outlets in late February of 21 Coptic Egyptian men martyred by Islamist extremists, one photo especially caught my attention. I shared it on Facebook and with my teen boys, because the image cast a new, inspiring light on that horrific event.
Joining the lineup of young Christian men on their knees on the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean, was someone with darker skin. The accompanying article stated that this man was not Coptic and not even raised Christian, and yet died for the Christian Faith. News sources say he hailed from Chad, and might have pleaded for his life, since he was not a man “of the cross,” like his friends from Northern Egypt. But when the blades were poised at the throats of the young Christians beside him and at his own throat, he said, “My God is their God.”
In this case, the bad guys really did wear black. They stood like Grim Reapers, ready to harvest. The man from Chad and his 20 Coptic companions showed incredible bravery and composure at the point of death. Many murmured prayers and whispered “Ya Rabbi Yasou,” “My Lord Jesus Christ,” as their slaughter commenced.
We, driving children to gymnastics classes and choir, braces tightenings and ACT testings, struggle to grasp such barbarism…and to remember that we are close kin to suffering Christians world-wide.
Another image circulated across Facebook this past week, shared by a Catholic friend. This one showed a metal cage filled with little children wearing orange suits. Several women stood solemnly with them. They all looked out from the bars, helpless. More Christians cleared from another Libyan village. A day’s work well done in the eyes of those who believe the best Christians are dead ones.
Even though it hurts, we must stay informed so we can pray and act. Yes, even us Moms who are behind on laundry, shuffling car pool times and rolling our grocery carts past racks of shelves laden with good things. We’re called to pray sacrificially as our dear faithful brothers and sister in Christ suffer. We’re also called to pray for the perpetrators, for Christ’s light to break through to convert their hearts.
The Coptics, their friend from Chad, and those masked men might seem far away from us, but they are ever so close.
As we work to form healthy families and neighborhoods, we can recall what St. John Paul II urged in Novo Millennio Ineunte, that “our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools” of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly ‘falls in love.’ Intense prayer, yes, but it does not distract us from our commitment to history; by opening our heart to the love of God it also opens it to the love of our brothers and sisters, and makes us capable of shaping history according to God’s plan.”
So why did I show my boys the photo of the martyrs on the shore? I wanted them to look at the faces of heroes. I wanted them to see brothers in faith – and one newly converted — who grasped life’s most priceless treasure, even in the face of inhuman cruelty. The black-garbed executors were terrifying, yet did not sway the commitment of those being led to their death. God bless all the new martyrs of this millennium. And Dear Lord, please convert those set against the “people of the Cross.”
Copyright 2015 Marianna Bartholomew