Pope Francis recognises 21 Copts beheaded by Islamic State as martyrs

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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Thursday announced that 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians beheaded by Islamic State in Libya in 2015 are being recognised as martyrs by the Vatican.

He revealed the move during a meeting with Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church and said he was doing so with Tawadros' consent.

The 21 Copts, 20 Egyptians and a Ghanaian, were lined up on Feb. 15, 2015 in orange jumpsuits on a beach in the Libyan city of Sirte, which Islamic State then controlled. The Islamist group posted a video of the killings, showing the men praying as they died.

Francis told Tawadros that the inscription of the men in what is known as the Roman Martyrology, or calendar of saints, was "a sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two Churches".

Their 'feast' day - which celebrates their memory - is expected to be Feb. 15.

Tawadros, 70, is at the Vatican to mark the 50th anniversary of the first meeting between a Roman pope and a Coptic pope, which took place between their respective predecessors, Paul VI and Shenouda III, in 1973.

Copts comprise about 10% of Egypt's mostly Muslim population and there are small Coptic Christian communities throughout the Middle East and Africa. They have long been attacked by Islamist militants who see them as heretics.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)