At the beginning of Mass this morning in Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis called for prayers for the Coptic Orthodox Christians kidnapped and brutally killed by Islamic State in Sirte, Libya.

As he prepared to begin the Mass in the residence chapel, the Pope invited the congregation to join him in prayer for “our brother Copts, whose throats were slit for the sole reason of being Christian, that the Lord welcome them as martyrs, for their families, for my brother Tawadros, who is suffering greatly”.

He then prayed: “Be my protector, O God, a mighty stronghold to save me. For you are my rock, my stronghold! Lead me; guide me, for the sake of your name”.

The papal Mass, offered for the repose of the souls of the martyred Christians, was attended by the Pope’s personal secretary, Abuna Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, who is Coptic Catholic.

During his homily the Pope spoke of man’s capability for evil and destruction and condemned what he termed “merchants of death”, those who sell arms to those at war, furthering a cycle of hate, fratricide and violence.    

On Monday evening the Pope made a personal phone call to Patriarch Tawadros, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, to express his “sincere condolences” for the recent barbaric assassination.

“The Holy Father promised his prayers today and also tomorrow, the day of the funeral celebrations for the victims, and unites himself spiritually to the prayers and the sorrow of the Coptic Church in his morning mass," a Vatican statement said.

On Monday morning, during a meeting with Rev. John P. Chalmers, Moderator of the Church of Scotland (Reformed), along with other representatives of the Church of Scotland, the Pope said the witness of these Christians should move all Christian communions to draw closer to one another.

Departing from his prepared script, Francis said: “Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me!’ They were killed simply because they were Christians.”

He added: “It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants.  They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”

The Pope also asked that Christians “encourage one another to go forward with this ecumenism that is emboldening us, the ecumenism of blood.”

Martyrs, he added, “belong to all Christians.”

Yesterday, Egypt retaliated for the atrocity, bombing Islamic State targets in Libya, hours after video was released of the beheadings.