Adding members of the Orthodox religion to the list of those who have died for their faith is a sign of communion between the two churches, the Pontiff said.
Pope Francis has said that 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians beheaded by Islamic State in Libya in 2015 will be considered martyrs by the Catholic Church.
The Pontiff made the announcement on Thursday during a meeting at the Vatican with Pope Tawadros II, head of the Egypt-based Coptic Orthodox Church, which has an estimated 10 million followers in North Africa and the Middle East.
Pope Francis said the inclusion of the slain Copts in the Roman Martyrology had been decided with the consent of Pope Tawadros, and that it was a “sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two Churches.”
“These martyrs were baptized not only with water and the Spirit, but also in blood, in a blood that is the seed of unity for all followers of Christ,” the Pontiff said.
The execution of the group of Copts, 20 of whom were from Egypt and one from Ghana, took place on February 15, 2015 at a beach in the Libyan city of Sirte. Footage of the beheadings shared by the extremists online showed the men dressed in orange jumpsuits and praying as they were killed.
Their bodies were exhumed in 2018 and brought to a shrine in the Egyptian settlement of El-Aour, from where most of them hailed.
It is not the first time non-Catholic Christians have been added to the Roman Martyrology (the list of saints celebrated liturgically in the Catholic Church).
In 2001, several Orthodox saints were added, including Sergius of Radonezh and Stephen of Perm, who are revered by the Russian Orthodox Church.