Matthew Ayariga

Matthew Ayariga is one of the 21 people officially recognised as a 21st-century martyr by the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.

Matthew Ayariga is one of the 21 people officially recognised as a 21st-century martyr by the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.

Matthew Ayariga was beheaded along with 20 construction worker colleagues by Islamic State militants on a beach in Libya in February 2015. They were canonized as martyrs days later by Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

Shortly after, Pope Francis announced that the 21 martyrs would “be included in the Roman Martyrology as a sign of the spiritual communion uniting our two Churches”.

Matthew Ayariga is a bit of a mystery. Firstly, he is the only one among the 21 who was not a Coptic Orthodox Christian. Secondly, there is a chance he may not have been a Catholic either. Most sources agree Ayariga was from Ghana, however, speculation he could have been from elsewhere as there is no date of birth or birthplace listed for Ayariga. Not much seems known of Ayariga’s early years. It is presumed that when he came of working age, he decided to leave his homeland and earn a living as a migrant worker.

Nonetheless, we celebrate the life of Matthew Ayariga as a martyr. When militants had questioned Ayariga about his faith before his death, no doubt wondering what linked him to a group of Egyptian Christians, Matthew Ayariga reportedly told them simply, “Their God is my God.”

Ayariga’s willingness to die alongside his Coptic companions is why we celebrate him as a Saint. Matthew Ayariga received his Baptism on the Libyan seaside. Pope Francis said: “These martyrs were baptised … in blood, blood that is a seed of unity for all followers of Christ.”

Reflection by Fr Mark E. Odion

Fr Mark E. Odion, MSP Policy & Research Analyst at CBCEW shares his reflection on Matthew Ayariga.

“Matthew Ayariga was a man who was not afraid to identify with Christ. He stands for courage. He inspires me to be open in professing my faith. From his life, I see a man who joyfully stands for what he believed. He was never ashamed of what he believed and publicly proclaim his faith in the midst of danger.”