Agence France Presse
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis praised Sunday a Syriac Catholic bishop who has been beatified in Lebanon, a century after he his beheading by Ottoman forces during a wave of religiously motivated killings in Syria.
Flavien Michel Melki, murdered for refusing to renounce Christianity, was officially recognized by Pope Francis as a “martyr” of the Catholic church earlier this month.
“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 their faith,” the pope said Sunday at St. Peter’s square.
“Today, in the Middle East and other regions of the world, Christians are also persecuted,” he said, demanding “legislators and rulers” in the region and the international community to protect religious freedom and end violence.
The beatification took place at a monastery north of Beirut Saturday.
Turkish-born Melki’s church was burned down during a massacre by Ottoman soldiers in 1895 and his mother killed.
He was made a bishop and spent two decades serving the church before being arrested in 1915 along with a Chaldean bishop.
Both were killed when they refused to convert to Islam.
His beatification comes at a time of growing concern over jihadis targeting Christians in the Middle East, with Francis last month saying “a form of genocide was taking place.”
The Syriac Catholic church, with around 160,000 members and headquartered in Beirut, is one of several eastern Christian churches.
The community accuses the Ottomans of having carried out massacres of its members in 1915, alongside the mass killings of Armenians.
In April, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican after the pope labelled the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman forces a century ago as genocide. Turkey vehemently contests the use of the word.