Weiss, Liberat

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Franciscan missionary to Ethiopia and martyr; b. Konnersreuth, Bavaria, Jan. 4, 1675; d. Abbo, near Gondar, Ethiopia, March 3, 1716. He became a friar Oct. 13, 1693, at Graz, Austria; was ordained Sept. 14, 1698, at Vienna; and joined the Upper EgyptEthiopia mission, headed by Prefect Joseph of Jerusalem, OFM, in 1704 at Rome. On its way to Ethiopia, the party reached Sennar, Sudan, May 21, 1705, and was halted by a rupture of relations between the courts of Sennar and Gondar (Ethiopia's capital). Among unspeakable hardships, Weiss was named vice prefect by the dying prefect (May 29, 1709), and returned to Cairo to plan a fresh start. Impressed by the heroic efforts of the missionaries, the Holy See determined to open the Ethiopian mission, and named Weiss prefect (April 20, 1711). In the fifth Franciscan attempt since 1632, when the Portuguese Jesuits and garrison fell victims of a dreadful persecution, the new prefect and confreres Michele Pio Fasoli and Samuele Marzorati left Cairo for Gondar by way of the Red Sea (Nov. 3, 1711). From Veinahaila, Tigrai, Weiss sent messengers with a letter to Abbot Gregory Tarara, a Basilian who had been converted by him at Sennar and was at that time attached to the Gondar court, to introduce the friars to King Yustos (171216). On July 20, 1712, the friars reached Gondar and were warmly welcomed by the king and Abbot Gregory. The king supported the friars against the Monophysite monks, who charged them as infidels, upholding two natures in Christ, uncircumcised, and irreverent to the cross and the Blessed Mother's icons.

While waiting for papal briefs for the king and church dignitaries, the friars studied both the vernacular Amhara and the scriptural Tigrai, and prudently did some pastoral work. To help Yustos curb disloyalty and revolt, on Nov. 20, 1713, Weiss wrote Clement XI and Charles VI to dispatch some 5,000 soldiers to act as royal bodyguards and to restore internal peace, a request that was to bring him a stern reprimand (May 11, 1716). By April 29, 1714, intrepid Father Giacomo Negro reached Gondar with aid, mail, and comfort for his confreres; he returned to Cairo 13 months later to organize steady support for the new mission. On May 9, Clement XI wrote King Yustos and Abbot Gregory letters of appreciation for their assistance to the missionaries. As the revolt mounted, on Sept. 30, 1715, the king sent the friars into hiding but soon afterward fell critically ill. One of his brothers seized the throne on Feb. 12, 1716, as David III. After Yustos's untimely death (Feb. 16, 1716), David had the friars brought back to the capital. On Saturday, February 29, the friars were put on trial and questioned on charges of heresy, uncircumcision, lack of reverence to the Virgin Mary, and refusal to accept the Monophysite Eucharist. After being questioned again on March 2, they were sentenced to be stoned to death the next day at Abbo, but would be pardoned by the king if they would recant and conform. Put in chains, they spent the night in prayer. On March 3, questioned for the third time and found unshakable in their faith, Fathers Weiss, Michele Pio, and Samuele were taken naked two miles (2,000 meters) south of Gondar to Abbo lying about 300 meters east of Agareb stream. There, led by the Armenian monk who headed the revolt, the people stoned the friars to death, thus ending a promising mission for which the Holy See had entertained high hopes and made great efforts. With the informative process for his beatification begun on July 25, 1933, Weiss is now venerated as a Servant of God.

Bibliography: c. beccari, Notizia e saggi di opere e documenti inediti riguardanti la storia di Etiopia durante i secoli XVI, XVII e XVIII (Rome 1903). c. othmer, "P. Liberatus Weiss, O.F.M., seine Missionstätigkeit und sein Martyrium," Archivum Franciscanum historicum 20 (1927) 336355; "Series documentorum ad vitam, missionem ac martyrium P. Liberati Weiss," ibid. 31 (1938) 127153. 440457; P. Liberat Weiss: Ein österreichischer Franziskaner Apostolischer Missionär und Blutzeuge (2d ed. Vienna 1933). g. m. montano, "Etiopia Francescana nei documenti dei secoli XVIIXVIII," Biblioteca bio-bibliografica della Terra Santa, ser. 3, v.2, ed. g. zanella (QuaracchiFlorence 1948). m. a. habig, The Franciscan Book of Saints (Chicago 1959). p. m. sevesi, L'Ordine dei Frati Minori (Milan 1960) 2.2:39 g. manfredi, La figura del "Praefectus Missionum"ai Frati Minori, 16301792 (Studia Orientalia Cristiana Collectanea 3; Cairo 1958). g. giamberardini, ed., Itinerario in Oriente (17011718) del P. Giacomo Negro da Oleggio (ibid. 6; 1961) 265304; "I Viaggiatori Francescani attraverso la Nubia dal 1698 al 1710," (ibid. 8; 1963) 361437; "Historia" della missione Francescana in Alto EgittoFungiEtiopia, 16861720, scritta dal P. Giacomo d'Albano (Cairo 1961).

[a. s. rosso]