After his traditional Angelus message on Sunday, Pope Francis launched a heartfelt appeal on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, saying that there are more Christians killed for their faith today than during the brutal persecutions by the Roman Empire.
The Pope held up the example of an Assyrian martyr who refused to convert to Islam—the Syriac Catholic Bishop Michael Flaviano Melki, beatified in Harissa, Lebanon on Saturday. “In the context of a terrible persecution of Christians, he was a tireless defender of the rights of his people, urging all to remain firm in the faith,” Francis said.
Bishop Melki was martyred during the so-called “Assyrian Genocide” out of hatred for the faith on August 29 one hundred years ago in present-day Turkey, during the massacres carried out against the Armenians and members of other Christian communities at the instigation of the Young Turks.
According to eyewitness reports by Muslim sources, Melki was arrested on August 28 by the Ottoman authorities, along with the Chaldean bishop of the city. The two bishops were killed after refusing to renounce their faith and convert to Islam. The Chaldean bishop was shot dead, and Bishop Melki was tortured to death and then decapitated.
The Pope took occasion to remark that, in our own times, such violence against Christians continues unabated throughout the world.
“Even today, dear brothers and sisters, in the Middle East and other parts of the world, Christians are persecuted,” Francis said. “There are more martyrs than in the first centuries.”
“The beatification of this martyr should instill in us consolation, courage, and hope,” he said, “but it is also a stimulus to legislators and government leaders to ensure that religious freedom is guaranteed everywhere.”
“And I ask the international community to do something to put an end to this violence and abuse,” the Pope said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.