Monday, July 10, 2006

July 10: Feast of the Three Massabki Brothers

Today is the Feast of the Three Massabki Brothers, Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphael, in the calendar of the Maronite Catholic Church.

In 1860, Ahmed Pasha ruled Syria. A sectarian tyrant, nothing would prevent him from achieving his ends.

July 9 of that year, by a special and secret order, Ahmed Pasha’s henchmen traced crosses in the streets of Damascus and made it known that the “Children of the Christians” were the authors. Spirits were troubled and reprisals were unleashed. Fear permeated the Christian quarters. The trouble was distasteful to honest Muslims, and with the Council of Powers, they demanded of Ahmed to put an end to the trouble for the peace of the inhabitants and the safety of peoples’ lives. So Ahmed sent his emissaries to imprison some Christians charged with “disturbing the public peace,” and then quickly released them.

At sundown, the governor gave the order to his agents, with the help of some hoodlums, to go in to the streets and start fires. Having arrived in front of the Orthodox Church, they set it afire after a bloody massacre. The fire spread, and theft and plundering rampaged through house after house. On the morning of July 10, the Christians were massacred, their houses destroyed and their goods stolen. The survivors took refuge in the citadel, aided by the great Emir Abdel-Kader of Algeria, and by several Muslims.

Around 8 o’clock in the evening, while fire took hold of the Orthodox Christian quarters, Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphael were at home. Fearing the furor and ferocity of the massacres, they left their wives and children and headed for the Franciscan convent.

At 11 o’clock, the Mission Superior closed and barricaded the doors, and invited the refugees into the church. After the litany, the Fathers heard confession and gave communion to all of the devoted present. From the church, they climbed to the convent terrace; only Francis remained kneeling before the altar of the Sorrowful Mother.

At one hour past midnight, the slaughterers infiltrated the house by a secret door shown to them by Hassan Allaf, the house manager. Some refugees took flight. Ahmed’s agents seized the Superior who promised to show them the hiding place of a treasure. They followed him in delirious joy. The Father descended into the church, lighted two candelabras, opened the tabernacle, and swallowed the Blessed Hosts. He was killed upon the altar. Francis remained kneeling before the Virgin. Ahmed’s agents recognized him. They advanced towards him and said: “Sheik 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.” Francis responded calmly: “Sheik Abdallah can take the money I lent him, he can also take my life; but my faith, no one can make me deny. I am a Maronite Christian and on the faith of Christ, I will die.”

“We will kill you,” they cried. “I will be with my Lord.” Francis then began a prayer, which he finished in heaven. The slaughterers massacred him with swords, hatchets, and daggers.

Abdel Mohti was on the church terrace, when the convent fell into the hands of the assassins. He ran to the church to take refuge near his brother, but at the chapel door, he was seized and asked to deny his faith in order to enter Islam. His life would be spared. In a clear voice, he proclaimed: “I am a Christian, kill me, I am ready.” Daggers and hatchets severed his body and he fell at the church door.

As for Raphael, he was hiding in a corner of the convent. They found him and propositioned him: “become a Muslim, you will be saved.” Raphael fell to his knees and appealed to the Holy Virgin. He was beheaded and trampled.

Once the calm had returned, witnesses assure, the three martyred brothers were buried with the Franciscan Priests, martyrs for their faith.

(Courtesy of