Letter: The beheaded Coptic Christians — I knew them all


Egyptian Coptic women attend a mass led by Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II to honor the memory of the Egyptian Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic State (IS) group militants in Libya on February 17, 2015 at Saint-Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo’s al-Abbassiya district. Egypt called for a UN-backed international intervention in Libya after launching air strikes on Islamic State group targets in the country following the jihadists’ beheadings of the Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach. KHALED DESOUKI / AFP/Getty Images

Montreal Gazette, Published on:

On Feb. 15, I watched a video of ISIS beheading 21 Coptic Christian men on a beach in Tripoli, Libya. The faces of the captors/executioners were hidden — cowards! And I saw the faces of the victims, martyrs, and I knew all of them.

I had met all of them over the years and in different places. In the church in Honolulu last summer, in a church in London in the summer of 1987, and over the years in the churches of Montreal, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Bermuda, among others. Even in the deserts of California, Nevada and Sinai!

I know their families. I can see their parents, wives and children. I have seen them laugh and I have seen them cry. I have seen them fast and I have seen them feast. I have seen them struggle and fail. I have also seen them succeed and content.

I have heard their dreams and discussed their anguish. I’ve seen them smoke the water pipe together and break bread with friends. I have seen them at their weddings and sadly, at funerals too. I have seen them scream at the TV during soccer matches and sleep after a long day.

They were hardworking. They chose to leave the relative comfort of their homes in Egypt and the familiarity, support and love of family and friends to go to Libya to find work and earn a better living.

My parents did the same when they left Egypt in 1969, as have millions that have gone to Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere in search of a better life for themselves and those they love.

The journey of the 21 was filled with hope, filled with an expectation that their turn to thrive was at hand. A future.

I know them because I have known Copts around the world. Bound by a common and orthodox faith, we share a kinship that knows no boundaries, that is not encumbered by class or tribal divisions, that is true and deep and old. Generational, linguistic and cultural barriers are not material and are broken. Rich and poor, old and young, male and female, new immigrant and generational citizen; we don’t see those differences.

Instead, in each other, we see one another. And so on the beach in orange jump suits, I see my family and friends. I see innocents, executed. They don’t yell or cry. They don’t fight or resist. The are serene, seeing only the gates of Paradise open before them. In their liturgical lives, they would have heard stories of countless martyrs executed for their faith. And now, they understand it is their turn. A new story of 21 young men slaughtered for being Christians.

They were not killed for being Egyptian or for being combatants. They were not killed for money. They were killed for being Copts.

I will see them again on Sunday, at church, whichever church I go to, anywhere in the world, I will see them and their beloved. Shahir Guindi, Montreal

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