Priest Says God 'Chose Right Time' for Recovery of 21 Beheaded Christians' Bodies; Families Respond

(Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad)Coptic Christians pray at a symbolic funeral for the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by Islamic State earlier this week, in Jerusalem's Old City February 18, 2015. Egypt directly intervened for the first time in the conflict in neighbouring Libya on Monday after Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians.

A Coptic priest said God "chose the right time" for the remains of the 21 Christians who were beheaded by the Islamic State terror group in Libya to be recovered, as families are planning their funeral.

"Our Lord chose the right time for the appearance and return of the remains of the martyrs after the completion of the building of the Church of the Martyrs of Libya to receive the blessed bodies of the martyrs to be placed at the new church in the village," Father Makar Issa, a priest at The Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church from Aour village, Egypt, told International Christian Concern.

Thirteen of the murdered men, who were captured and slaughtered by the Islamic militants in February 2015, were originally from Aour.

"This church is now completed and it is ready to receive its martyred sons, the heroes who lifted the head of the church and Christians all around the world," Issa added.

Libya's interior ministry revealed last week that a mass grave with the bodies of the 21 Copts had been discovered, with the remains sent for forensic examination.

"The heads are separated from the bodies clad in orange jumpsuits, hands bound behind the back with plastic wire," said the ministry's unit for fighting organized crime in the city of Misurata.

Officials apparently were tipped off about the location of the grave, near the one-time IS bastion of Sirte, 280 miles east of Tripoli, after a militant prisoner made a confession.

The beheaded Christians, who were murdered for their faith as part of a chilling message IS sent to the world about its intentions to massacre Christians, have been hailed as martyrs by the Coptic church, with a house of worship built in their honor.

The families of the men have said that they plan to personally verify the identities of the bodies, which are currently in a Libyan morgue, after which they will be handed over for burial.

The brother of two of the Christians, Bishoy and Samuel, told ICC:

"A great state of joy prevailed in our village [Aour] after the publication of pictures of the bodies. Our feelings are indescribable. They are mixed between crying and joy."

The mother of another one of the martyrs, Mina Fayez Aziz, added that the discovery of the remains helps the grieving families.

"After hearing the news of finding the bodies of the martyrs, I'm comforted more than before. I will be very happy when I see them and will visit them every day at the church. We pray that God complete their safe return to us," she said.

ICC Regional Manager Claire Evans noted that the Christian families have been looking for the remains of their loved ones for over two years now, and urged Libyan and Egyptian authorities to make sure the bodies are buried with dignity.

"At the same time, we must not forget that these victims were originally in Libya because of a lack of opportunity in Egypt for Christians. We pray that these families will experience healing from this tragedy and for the safety of those Egyptian Christians who continue to risk their lives for the sake of their families' welfare," Evans said.

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