Vatican City — Pope Francis on Monday denounced the brutal slayings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by militants linked to the Islamic State, saying "they were assassinated just for being Christian."
"The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out," Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks during an audience with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland.
The pope, switching to his native Spanish, noted that those killed only said, "Jesus help me."
"Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn't matter: They're Christian! The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ," Francis said. He said their deaths bore witness to "an ecumenism of blood" that should unite Christians, a phrase he has used repeatedly as the Islamic State continues its bloody march.
The Islamic State militants released a video late Sunday purporting to show the mass beheading of the Christian hostages, who had been held for several weeks.
In the video, one of the militants points northward toward Italy, some 500 miles across the Mediterranean Sea, and says, "We will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission."
Nerves were already on edge in Europe following the terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris last months and over the weekend in Copenhagen.
But Vatican officials have downplayed any immediate danger and say that Vatican and Italian security forces are monitoring the situation.