Pope Francis recognizes martyrdom of Lebanese priests killed under Ottoman Empire

Fr. Leonard Melki, pictured in Lebanon in 1911. Credit: Fares Melki (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Pope Francis yesterday advanced the sainthood causes of nine men and women, including two Lebanese priests martyred under the Ottoman Empire.

Fr. Leonard Melki and Fr. Thomas Saleh were Capuchin friars and missionaries in what is now Turkey who were arrested, tortured, and martyred by the forces of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and 1917 respectively. 

Melki was given a choice: convert to Islam and be freed, or die as a Christian. Refusing to apostatize, the Lebanese priest was forced to march with more than 400 Christian prisoners into the desert, where he was killed “in hatred of the faith” on 11 June 1915, alongside the Armenian Catholic archbishop Blessed Ignatius Maloyan, who was beatified by John Paul II in 2001.

Saleh was arrested and sentenced to death after giving shelter to an Armenian priest during the Armenian genocide. Before his death, he said: “I have full trust in God, I am not afraid of death,” according to the Capuchin Order in Lebanon.

Pope Francis recognized the martyrdom of Melki and Saleh yesterday, as well as that of two other martyrs: Fr. Luigi Lenzini, who was killed in Italy in 1945, and Brazilian Isabel Cristina Mrad Campos, who was murdered in 1982 at the age of 20 for resisting rape.

Following a meeting with Cardinal-elect Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope also approved miracles attributed to three founders of religious orders. 

Blessed Fr. Giustino Maria Russolillo (1891-1955) can now be canonized after the pope approved a second miracle attributed to his intercession, involving the healing in 2016 of a religious with serious respiratory damage belonging to the order he founded in Naples, according to Vatican News.

Russolillo was a parish priest in Naples who was highly regarded as a spiritual director and preacher. He founded the Society of Divine Vocations, also known as the Vocationist Fathers, and the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Vocations.

Pope Francis also approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of a blind Polish nun, Venerable Róża Maria Czacka (1976-1961). 

Czacka suffered from eye problems at an early age and completely lost her sight at the age of 22. She devoted her life to helping other people who were blind, founding an educational facility for the blind in Warsaw in 1909. 

This work led her to find her religious calling, and in 1918 she founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters, Servants of the Cross, dedicated to serving the blind. 

Another founder who can now be beatified is Venerable Maria Lorenza Requenses in Longo, a 15th-century Spanish noblewoman who founded the Hospital of the Incurables in Naples and a monastery of Capuchin nuns after she was widowed.

With the decree from the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, the pope also recognized the heroic virtue of Brazilian Brother Roberto Giovanni (1903-1994) of the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata, who dedicated his long life to serving the poor and the sick, and the heroic virtue of Maria Teresa of the Heart of Jesus (1844-1908), co-founder of the Handmaids of the Divine Heart of Jesus in Spain.

Source: CNA