Damascus, Martyrs of

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A group of eleven martyrs, eight Franciscans and three laymen, put to death for their faith during the night of July 910, 1860, at damascus, Syria (then part of Turkey in Asia), and beatified Oct. 10, 1926. Of the six priests, Engelbert Kolland, aged 33, was Austrian; the others were SpaniardsEmmanuel Ruiz, the superior, 56; Nicholas Alberca, 30; Nicanor Ascanio, 46; Peter Soler, 33; and Carmel Volta, 57. Two were Spanish lay brothersJohn James Fernandez, 52, and Francis Pinazo, 58. The three laymen, natives of Damascus, belonging to the Maronite rite, were Francis Massabki, an important silk merchant, aged over 70; and his two brothers slightly youngerAbd-al-Mūti (Servant of God who gives), and Raphael. The first two were fathers of large families; the last was unmarried.

The Sultan's proclamation (1856) at the end of the Crimean War guaranteeing equality between his Christian and Muslim subjects irritated many Muslims. When news reached Damascus that the druzes of Lebanon had attacked many Christian localities and perpetrated massacres with the complicity of the Ottoman authorities, the populace, roused by government agents and leading citizens, attacked, burned, and pillaged the wealthy Christian quarter, killing about 4,000.

The Franciscans were assailed either in church, where their superior had the opportunity to consume the Sacred Species reserved there, or on the convent terrace, or in the street. After their refusal to apostatize, they were slaughtered. The Massabki brothers, who had taken refuge with them, had received Holy Communion and were praying at the foot of the altar. A Muslim notable who owed Francis 8,000 napoleons proposed to spare all three if only they would embrace Islam. Francis told the Muslim to keep the money, but that he would give his soul to no one. The brothers, thereupon, were martyred.

Feast: July 10.

Bibliography: a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater 3:6870.

[h. jalabert]