Bishop Michael Melki, a Syrian Catholic cleric martyred during the Assyrian Genocide of 1915 for refusing to convert to Islam, has been beatified. The bishop was beheaded by the Ottomans during the Sayfo – “putting to the sword” – of Assyrians in 1915, a tragedy in which at least 250,000 Syriac-speaking Christians were murdered, alongside one million Armenians.
Bishop Melki was beatified at a monastery in Lebanon on Saturday, the centenary of his martyrdom. On Sunday Pope Francis told the faithful in St Peter’s Square that “In the context of a terrible persecution of Christians, [Melki] was a tireless defender of the rights of his people, urging all to remain firm in their faith.
“Today, in the Middle East and other regions of the world, Christians are also persecuted,” he said, and called on “legislators and rulers” across the world to protect religious freedom.
Flavianus Michael Melki was born in 1858 and went on to be an Eastern Catholic prelate of the Brothers of Saint Ephrem, and later the Syrian Catholic eparch of Gazarta, where he was killed.
He lived in extreme poverty as a priest and sold his vestments to help the poor. In the summer of 1915, with the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides in full swing, the Ottoman authorities arrested him along with the Chaldean bishop. Both were killed for refusing to renounce their faith and convert to Islam, and Bishop Melki was tortured to death and decapitated.
On August 8 Pope Francis confirmed his beatification saying he was killed in hatred of the faith.
Syriac Catholic priest Nizar Semaan said: “A blessed of our church has not been proclaimed for a long time. Bishop Melki will be the first of the martyrs of the Syrian Catholics of that genocide to be raised to the honour of the altar.
“His beatification is a gift for all Christians of the East in these times of new trials.”
Fr Nizar said Melki’s “figure shows us the luminous faith with which he lived the terrible persecution one hundred years ago, and he can give hope and courage to all the baptised.”