By Christine M. Williams, Anchor Correspondent
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Local Catholics have prayed in solidarity with Coptic Orthodox Christians mourning the loss of 21 men martyred in Libya last month. In Attleboro, Father Riley Williams celebrated Mass in honor of the martyrs at St. Vincent de Paul Parish on February 22; about two dozen members of the local Coptic Orthodox Church attended. The community has five churches in the area — in Attleboro; Boston; Marshfield; Natick; and Nashua, N.H.
Emil Khalil, a deacon in the Coptic Orthodox Church, said that he watched the gruesome video of the martyr’s beheadings, released by ISIS, and does not recommend that others do the same.
“The way they killed people, it’s terrible,” he said. “You can’t imagine that people can kill people this way.”
He said asks the men every day to intercede for the conversion of their killers. He hopes that the 21 murderers will one day understand how much God loves all people.
Father Shenouda Awad, also a member of the Coptic Orthodox Church, said that he is proud of the 21 men who kept their faith until death. The video shows that many of the men’s last words were “Ya Rabbi Yasou,” which translates to “My Lord Jesus Christ.”
The local Coptic Orthodox community has held a vigil and offered prayers for the men. They also plan to speak about the martyrs and the importance of being witnesses for Christ in everyday life.
Father Awad added that he felt the support of the Catholic Church when he attended the Mass held in Attleboro last month. During the service, he prayed for unity between all churches.
“Our sister church is sharing in this event,” he said. “We are sharing the prayer about one issue.”
Father Williams said that while he does not want to gloss over the divisions between the Catholic and Coptic Orthodox churches, what unites the communities is much greater.
“We are all followers of Christ,” he said, adding that the martyrs’ lives were completely centered on Christ. “They made the ultimate sacrifice.”
He said that he was moved by the martyrs’ witness and is always glad to see the power of the Holy Spirit working in believers.
Donna Lamontagne, a Catholic who attended the Mass, said the service was simple and beautiful and praised Father Williams’ homily.
“Father Williams wanted to make sure that we recognize that all of us who live our lives for Christ can learn from the sacrifice of these people,” she said.
She added that attending the Mass and offering prayers for the men was something small she could do to make a difference and show compassion for Christians all over the world.
“The beheadings are simply terrible,” she said. “We wanted to show solidarity with the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church — to show that other Christians feel their pain and that they’re not alone in their struggle.”
Father Edward Healey, pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich, sent a letter of support to the local Coptic Orthodox community on behalf of the Diocese of Fall River and Bishop Edgar da Cunha. Father Healey is also Fall River’s representative for Ecumenical Affairs.
“Let us continue to support one another in faith and to pray that the Gospel of the Prince of Peace will be heard by those who plot evil against others and be effective in changing their minds and hearts,” he wrote in the letter.
Several of the people who spoke with The Anchor said that the martyrs’ deaths keep our lives as Christians in the United States in perspective and remind us of the people all over the world who cannot go to church and know they will be safe.
Susan Small, a Catholic who attended the Mass dedicated to the martyrs, said that the intention for persecuted brethren is always in her heart.
“I pray for them at least once a day,” she said.