They were victims of the 1860 massacres in Mount-Lebanon and Damascus. Example of “martyrs of the faith” in a time of growing persecution, further proof of the importance of the ecumenism of the saints, who gave their lives for “Christ himself”. As John Paul II said, Christian unity is not built, it only has to be expanded.
Beirut () – The Maronite Church recently officially communicated, through its patriarch, Cardinal Beshara Raï, that Pope Francis approved the decree proclaiming the three Francis brothers, Abdel Mohti and Raphaël, “martyrs of the faith” Massabki . They died in the infamous massacres of 1860 in Damascus (one of the darkest pages for Eastern Christians) and will be incorporated into the assembly of saints of the universal Church, regardless of the recognition of a miracle that would have occurred through their intercession. A fundamental step in the cause of canonization of future saints.
“This is our Christmas gift,” said the head of the Maronite Church, referring to the honor given to his community through them. The date of the canonization ceremony, which is normally held in Rome, has not yet been officially set.
The Massabki brothers found their death in Damascus, in the massacres whose historical causes go back to certain rivalries in Mount Lebanon between Druze and Maronites fomented by foreign interference, and in which the Ottoman governor Ahmed Pasha was one of the main protagonists. The three men were murdered on July 10, 1860 inside the Franciscan convent, after refusing to renounce their Christian faith. This occurred within the framework of a popular revolt that lasted between July 9 and 18 – which claimed between 4,000 and 6,000 Christian victims in Damascus alone – and later also spread to Bekaa, especially Zahlé.
In the nine days that the massacres lasted, nearly 20,000 Christians were killed in Damascus and Bekaa. At the same time, in the Syrian capital, they destroyed 11 churches and three convents and burned or razed between 1,500 and 2,000 homes and some 200 businesses. The Russian, Dutch, Belgian, American and Greek consulates were looted and burned.
Muslims save honor
Some pious Muslims saved the honor of the community, among them the Algerian emir Abdel Kader, exiled by France in Damascus, thanks to whom many Christians were saved and were able to reach safe parts of Lebanon.
News of the massacres in 1860 naturally terrified a West that prided itself on being the protector of Eastern Christians. The efforts of the Western powers before the Sublime [puerta, el sultán otomano] they had the desired effect. Ahmed Pasha was executed, along with other imperial officials who participated in the massacre, and hundreds of accomplices were jailed or exiled.
In 1926, 66 years after the massacres, thanks to a joint decision of the then apostolic nuncio in Damascus and the Maronite archbishop of the Syrian capital, Msgr. Beshara Chémali (whose territory extended to Sarba, in Lebanon), the three brothers Massabki were declared blessed by Pope Pius XI on October 7, 1926. Since then the Maronite Church celebrates the blessed Massabki brothers every year on the Sunday following July 12.
Ecumenism of the martyrs
At this time, in accordance with the spirit of unity promoted by Saint John Paul II and continued by his successors, many voices are asking that the canonization ceremony of the blessed be also an occasion to better highlight what is called “ecumenism of the martyrs”. .
Today there is no longer any doubt that among the victims of the 1860 massacres is also Youssef Mehanna-Haddad, a priest of the Orthodox Church of Antioch. When he left his house incognito and dressed as a layman together with his daughter-in-law (it is the custom of the Eastern Church that priests can marry) he was recognized by a group of rioters, kidnapped and murdered. The memory of him lives on and the Church of him also solemnly celebrates his memory. Up to now the Latin, Maronite and Orthodox Churches have commemorated the memory of the 1860 martyrs independently from each other, but we must be equally aware that these Christians of different denominations gave witness with their lives, giving it up for Christ himself.
What John Paul II meant, basically explained by some circles of the Church, is that Christian unity must not be sought, it must not be built from scratch as if it did not exist, but rather it must only be expanded. Because it has already been fulfilled in the martyrs and saints of the various Churches, who gave witness to the faith up to the definitive gift of their lives.