You never heard of these folks? Today is the feast of three brothers from a prosperous family of Maronite Catholics from Damascus, and eight Roman Catholic Franciscan friars, who died for their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Catholic Church.
Francis, Raphael and Abdel Massabki, three Maronite brothers who were martyred on July 10 in 1860 in the city of Damascus. The brothers came from an extended family that was both successful and pious. The Muslim sheikhs of Damascus referred to the Massabki clan as people who joined in prayer and spiritual reading every night in their homes. The family was descended from a Maronite priest, and had lived in Damascus for over 400 years. Brothers Francis and Abdel were married men with large families. Raphael lived a quiet life of devotion to Our Lady They were each devout in their personal prayer lives, and attended both the Latin rite Franciscan friary Mass and their own Maronite Qurbana/ Divine Liturgy.
In 1860, Syria was swept by a fierce anti-Christian purge in which 11,000 Christians were murdered in Damascus itself and over 12,000 in Lebanon. The Turkish army stood by, its only actions being robbing the Christian refugees, as radical Muslims and the Druze both rose up and falsely accused the native Christians of being in league with foreign powers by virtue of their faith. It was a situation somewhat similar to the atrocities of today; there were some moderate Muslims who intervened to save whole families, including Abdel Kader who saved 1,000 souls himself. Muslim neighbors protected the Christians of the Midan district and kept the jihadists out. But these were outnumbered by fanatics and thieves who butchered 26,000 Christians in three days, including foreigners.
Abdel kader, in white, saves Christians in the citadel while Damascus burns
The Christian Quarter, mostly Catholic, of Damascus in ruins, 1860
Refugees had fled to the supposed safety of the Franciscan friary, as all of them were foreigners and presumably the building would be spared from the fires and looting. But the jihadists were let in by a servant who betrayed a hidden door to them. The Massabki Brothers were offered their lives and wealth if they would convert to Islam. In fact, the killers stated: “Sheikh Abdallah has sent us to save you from death; you, your brothers, your families, and all those who depend upon you for protection, on the condition that you deny your faith and convert to Islam.” Abdallah owed money to Francis, but Francis forgave the debt and refused to abandon Christ. He was promptly murdered in front of the altar of Our Lady of Sorrows. Abdel-Mohti was caught at the door of the Franciscan church and offered his life if he converted. “I am a Christian, kill me, I am ready.” He was cut up with daggers and hatchets. Raphael was discovered, and offered his life if he would change religions. He also refused, and was slain while praying to Our Lady. All of the Franciscans were butchered as well. Were the Massabki Brothers to have converted, it would have weakened Christian resolve. They refused, and all three were beheaded and their blood mixed with that of eight Franciscan friars. All eleven were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1926.
The killings today in Syria and Iraq follow this same pattern. Ordinary people are offered their lives if they will convert. Farmers, shop keepers, craftsmen and their families refuse, and they die in bloody massacres. Mosul has had a Christian church in it since the time of the Apostles, and now the churches are either blown up or used by Daesh jihadists for their crimes. Aleppo, the industrial and financial capital of Syria and once 10% Christian, is carved into government and rebel neighborhoods with daily atrocities.
Would this horror to come to America, where Christianity has declined to 70% of Americans, how would we respond? May these Brothers, the Friars, and all those who have died at the hands of Muslim jihadists for the 1,300 years pray for us to be renewed and strengthened in our faith, our love, our passion for God. AND MAY THERE BE PEACE IN SYRIA, IRAQ, and LEBANON and MAY JORDAN BE SPARED FROM THE SPREAD OF DAESH/ ISLAMIC STATE.