A year ago today (15 Feb.), 20 Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian killed by Islamic jihadists in Libya were announced as martyred saints by the Coptic Pope, Tawadros III of Egypt.

The head of the ancient Church, the largest in the Middle East and key within its branch of Oriental Orthodoxy, said the 20 Copts and one Ghanaian would be commemorated on 8 Amshir of the Coptic calendar, falling on 16 Feb. of the Gregorian year.

The persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, and elsewhere, served as the focal point of an historic meeting between Pope Francis of Rome and Patriarch Kirill from the Russian Orthodox Church, the first of its kind in nearly a millennium.

The two main branches of Christianity split between the then-Greek-speaking Orthodox East and Latin Catholic West in 1054.

“The Egyptians and their friend from Ghana who were brutally murdered were not statesmen, religious leaders, activists or spokesmen, but ordinary men from Egyptian villages working to support their families,” said Bishop Angaelos, the UK-based General Bishop of the Coptic Church.

A year ago, Pope Francis condemned the graphic slaughter of the 21, saying they were killed “simply because they were Christian … The martyrs belong to all Christians”.

In a joint statement by the respective heads of 1.2 billion Catholics and over 200 million Russian Orthodox, Francis and Kirill noted “with pain … the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East”.

“Christians have been killed by the thousands, and millions of others have been displaced,” said the statement, released in Cuba on 12 Feb.