Coptic Orthodox Church UK
Media and Communications Office
Orthodox Church (Europe)
Media and Communications Office
‘No Monopoly on Suffering’ themed Contemporary Martyrs Day 2022, with contributions from Archbishop Angaelos, Fiona Bruce MP, The Lord Alton of Liverpool, The Bishop of Truro, Mervyn Thomas CMG, and Gareth Russell, Jersey Road PR.
24 February 2022
Contemporary Martyrs Day 2022 was marked in an online event on 15 February 2022 themed ‘No Monopoly on Suffering’, highlighting not only the plight of the 21 Libya Martyrs who paid the ultimate price for their Christian Faith on 15 February 2015, but also the many communities that continue to suffer the brunt of persecution for practicing and living their chosen religion or belief.
Dr Ewelina Ochab, Deputy Director of Refcemi moderated the meeting, and gave wider context to Contemporary Martyrs Day, saying:
“We wish to use this day to shine a light on the issue of religion or belief, whenever and wherever it occurs. We use this day to stand with all those persecuted because of their religion or belief. Persecution is an issue that affects us all in various ways, this is also why this year, in preparing for Contemporary Martyrs Day, we have reached out to many religious or belief groups asking them to participate in this event, and we will hear from a few of them as they speak about the situation faced by their communities, including the Uyghurs in China, the Yazidis in Iraq and the Hazaras in Afghanistan.”
Launching the ‘#TellTheirStory’ Refcemi campaign, Dr Ochab continued:
“Over the next year we hope to highlight more stories, and this is the beginning of our campaign ‘Tell Their Story’ which aims to educate on the situation of communities around the world, to help them to speak out and trigger real change. As you hear their stories, tell their stories to others. It is our duty to spread the word and call for change. Change is urgently needed. Our advocacy effort aims to educate and unite in purpose to combat violations against religion or belief.”
His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, Founder and Director of Refcemi, said in his preamble:
“This event serves primarily to mark Contemporary Martyrs Day, a day set aside to remember the 21 martyrs in Libya, 20 Coptic Christians and 1 Ghanian friend, Matthew, and those from within the Coptic Orthodox community who have been persecuted for their Christian Faith, and those who have paid the ultimate price. Yet, it is not only a day for that. If we merely look at our own suffering within ourselves, then I think we lose sight of something. Following on from the execution of the 21 Libya martyrs in 2015, many people from many faith communities, and those of no faith at all, were touched because that particular situation spoke possibly of their own experience, or of the experience of someone else they knew, whether within Britain or around the world, and for that reason that ability of ours to look within ourselves but then out into the world is an essential one.”
Highlighting the scale of the issue, His Eminence continued:
“82% of the world considers itself religious, and yet over 80% of the countries in which people of faith reside, there will be some level of religious persecution taking place. To look at the experience of the 21 Libya martyrs, Christians targeted and executed for their Faith, also allows us to look beyond ourselves to other communities, and today we are joined by friends from the Uyghur, Yazidi and Hazara communities.
There is no monopoly on suffering. There is enough suffering in this world for us all to stand up for not only someone we know, but communities that we may not know of, but we hear about.”
A message from The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, addressed to His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, was read by His Grace Bishop Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark:
“Our solidarity with the martyrs means that spiritually we stand together on holy ground as we remember them. We all witness to the same faith, to the same overwhelming love of Christ crucified Who has touched and transformed our lives. The martyrs, past and present, speak most eloquently of Him. Our contemporary martyrs, such as the 21 we commemorate particularly today, remind us that the love of Christ is for every age, including our own. We are humbled and grateful as we remember them.”
The Bishop of Southwark then went on to speak about a recent pilgrimage journey to Egypt with Archbishop Angaelos, and said:
“We do not suffer these challenges here in the same way in the United Kingdom, but it is right that we stand in solidarity and hope, praying with, and advocating for those of our brothers and sisters who are hindered, ignored, threatened or even killed. The debate on Christian persecution and freedom of religion or belief at General Synod last week, which His Eminence has already mentioned, while it was just want example of solidarity with the persecuted Church. A vote was taken which was unanimous to stand up for all those persecuted for their faith.”
Speaking about the powerful example of Matthew, the Ghanian, who was killed alongside the 20 Copts in Libya on 15 February 2015, The Lord Alton of Liverpool said:
“Matthew, in this extraordinary act of love and solidarity, was willing to give his liberty and his life rather than walk away from his Coptic brothers. It stands as a rebuke to us all who remain silent in the face of the persecution of 250 million Christians worldwide. His act of extraordinary solidarity shames so many of us when we consider our tepid response – often based on political expediency, institutional considerations, or trade and business – to the persecution which is experienced by religious and ethnic groups the world over – discrimination that morphs into persecution; then persecution which morphs into crimes against humanity; and then ultimately into the crime above all crimes, genocide.”
“…When Matthew Ayariga stood with his Coptic brothers, he did so in an uncommon, atypical, display of common humanity. Are we willing to do the same?
The Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, The Bishop of Truro, who was tasked with ‘The Independent Review of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Response to Christian Persecution’, and said:
“It is right I think that this event should become a fixture in our calendar, not as something we give the nod to annually and not even just to remember those brave Christian brothers martyred on that Libyan beach, simply because they were followers of Jesus Christ, who died with the name of Jesus on their lips, though of course we do rightly honour them tonight. No; we should keep this date because of the pressing urgency of the times in which we live, and also because of the enduring significance of this issue. There is a pressing contemporary urgency in that this situation is getting steadily worse globally and indeed has worsened steadily since my Review reported over two and a half years ago now.”
Bishop Philip continued:
“The wholesale denial of Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the increasing denial of that, is a great evil. That people should be targeted simply because they believe different things and organise their lives accordingly is a monstrous evil. That 83% of the world’s population have that freedom curtailed is simply unacceptable, and that 80% of religiously motivated discrimination is directed against Christians is intolerable, and this is getting steadily worse.”
Fiona Bruce MP, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), said in her address:
“It is right that we remember on Contemporary Martyrs Day, the horrific fate of those men murdered by Daesh on that beach in Libya, targeted purely because they were Christians, but we should not simply remember. We owe it to them, and their families, to act, to see that such barbaric events do not continue to happen. Sadly, as we have already heard this evening, far too many Freedom of Religion or Belief violations are increasingly happening every day and around the world today, yet just over a year on from my appointment as the Prime Ministers Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, and even amidst the unfathomable, and sadly increasing suffering which we have heard of already this evening, I do want to encourage you. I want to encourage you today by what I have heard over the past year of the increase in the number and the determination of people of organisations and even of countries who are stepping up to join the charge to challenge these abuses and to work to ensure that everyone everywhere is free to follow their faith or belief.”
Ms Bruce continued to illustrate the work that the UK Government is doing in the area of FoRB, including international engagement, announcing a major upcoming Ministerial on FoRB, as well as FoRB fringe events, both of which will be held in London in 2022. The entire message can be viewed via the Refcemi YouTube channel.
Mervyn Thomas CMG, Chair of the UK FoRB Forum, urged all to move from awareness to action, and went on to say in his address:
“The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights gives everyone the right to choose, to change, and to practice their religion and if every country who had signed on to the agreement actually upheld that right in practice there would be many fewer martyrs in the world today. Sadly that is not the case. According to the Pew research centre, as we’ve already heard, 83% of the world’s population live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religious freedom.”
“As a Christian, I have had to ask myself ‘did my remit to speak up for religious freedom extend beyond the Christian community. What does the Bible say about that? In Proverbs Chapter 31:8 we read: ‘We are to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, ensure justice for those being crushed,’…everyone is our neighbour, even those we don’t like or see eye to eye with or indeed whose theology is fundamentally different from our own. In the light of that, CSW moved from being a persecuted church organisation to one that promoted religious freedom for all faiths and none, but nevertheless our work is motivated by our Christian Faith.”
Gareth Russell, Founder and Director, Jersey Road PR highlighted the responsibility of both the media and religious and belief groups to tell the stories of those who are persecuted, saying:
“People are twice as likely today than they were ten years ago to be open to spirituality and yet religious groups often lack the confidence to speak openly about the message of their faith for fear of ridicule or being ostracised, or as we mark today, being persecuted. That fear is not unfounded. As a PR agency we work in the business of stories and this evening we have heard many powerful stories…There are times they are dismissed, not for the quality of the story, but for the motivation of those within it. The role that religion plays in a media story can attract cynicism just by its very nature, often fuelled by a deep misunderstanding of faith.”
“The All Party Parliamentary Group on Religion in the Media released a report last year that found media reporting on a religion can be sensationalist, that it can reinforce problematic stereotypes, that it can commit basic mistakes and use imprecise language that homogenises faith groups while ignoring the diversity within those same groups. There is a need for a commitment from the media to religious literacy, if we are to build a more confident, harmonious society…There is also a responsibility on the part of religious groups to better understand the mechanics of the media and the needs of journalists…to present stories in a manner that takes into consideration their much reduced capacity and pressurised deadlines.”
His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, concluded the webinar by saying:
“We have heard of the opportunities presented this year in Britain, with the upcoming UK Ministerial on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the Lambeth Conference. We are thankful for the Truro Review and all that it brings, not only for the work of Bishop Philip himself and his team, but also for the work of the FCDO and all it has done through the work of the Special Envoy’s office and her team, along with others who are helping on this matter as a whole.”
“There is no monopoly on suffering. There is much suffering, and there is much more to be said and to be done. Today we have spoken, but many of us have also acted. When we act together, we bring so much more light and hope into the lives of many. This is not a philosophical or theoretical debate; this is about lives. As Christians it is part of the cross that we carry to accept persecution for ourselves, but never to accept it for others. It is a burden we may choose to carry, but we must never be silent to the suffering of others, and as Christians we do not advocate only for Christians but for everyone created in the image and likeness of God.”
The event also launched the ‘Tell Their Story’ campaign, in which three testimonies were heard from representatives of the Uyghur, Yazidi and Hazara communities. Watch via www.Youtube.com/Refcemi (Tell Their Story playlist).
For all messages and addresses
in full, watch the webinar here: https://youtu.be/hJ1slwLLSy4
‘Refcemi’ The Coptic Orthodox Office for Advocacy and Public Policy: www.Refcemi.org
The Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians: https://christianpersecutionreview.org.uk/report/
15 February 2015: Statement following the brutal murder of Coptic Christians in Libya https://copticcentre.blogspot.com/2015/02/statement-by-hg-bishop-angaelos.html
6 March 2015: HRH The Prince of Wales and The Archbishop of Canterbury support appeal for families of those brutally murdered in Libya https://copticcentre.blogspot.com/2015/03/hrh-prince-of-wales-and-archbishop-of.html
20 April 2015: Statement following the murder of Ethiopian Christians in Libya https://copticcentre.blogspot.com/2015/04/statement-by-hg-bishop-angaelos.html
15 May 2018: Comment by HE Archbishop Angaelos on Bodies of Libya Martyrs Repatriated to Egypt https://copticcentre.blogspot.com/2018/05/comment-by-he-archbishop-angaelos-on.html