Saint Matthew Ayariga

Saint Matthew Ayariga was martyred for his faith by Islamic State militants alongside 20 Coptic Orthodox construction workers on a beach in Libya in 2015.

Who will ever forget the gruesome and brutal executions of 21 construction workers perpetrated by Islamic State terrorists on a beach in Libya in February 2015? Filmed for a propaganda video, the men were dressed in identical orange jumpsuits and were led along a beach by black-clad militants before being murdered – many praying as they were martyred.

Matthew Ayariga was one of the men. The other workers were identified as Coptic Orthodox Christians, but Ayariga presence among them is something of a mystery. Some speculate that he was a Catholic. In the time before his death, when he was questioned by his terrorist captors, he simply said “their God is my God.”

Days after the murders, the martyrs were Canonised by Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II. Pope Francis followed suit announcing that the 21 men would “be included in the Roman Martyrology as a sign of the spiritual communion uniting our two Churches”.

It is believed that Matthew Ayariga was born in Ghana, or possibly Chad, in the late 80s or early 90s. Not much is known about him but he evidently left his homeland to earn a living as a migrant worker. In 2015 he sought construction work in the Libyan port town of Sirte.

Matthew Ayariga’s willingness to die alongside his Coptic companions is why we celebrate him as a saint and martyr. As Pope Francis said: “These martyrs were baptised … in blood, blood that is a seed of unity for all followers of Christ.”


By Father Mark E. Odion MSP, Policy and Research Analyst at the Bishops’ Conference.

“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 stood for what he believed. He was not ashamed and publicly proclaimed his faith in the face of death.”