Three Maronite Masabki Brothers
the end of the 13th century, there lived in Damascus a married
Maronite priest named Ya’qoub. This priest lived with his family in
“Masback el barrani,” a quarter of Damascus. The Damascans, who
highly respected this “zealous and honorable” priest, gave his
descendants the last name of “Massabki,” for the name of the quarter
in which he lived.
1293, Father Ya’qoub was ordained Bishop of Damascus, but
persecution forced him to flee the city, along with other Maronite
families, and to take refuge in Cyprus where the respected Prelate
died, mourning the death of his son Francis, massacred at Zabadani
(Syria). In the 15th century, his sons and grandsons returned to
Damascus where they were known by the name of “Massabki”.
Francis married Elizabeth Chiha, who gave birth to three boys and
five girls. Francis was a tall, handsome man with clear eyes, gentle
and humble, but with a strong will in the face of difficulty. He
wore the dress (gunbaz) that was in the style of his time and
covered his head with a large black turban.
a generous man. His vast home was open to everybody, particularly
foreigners and pilgrims. Francis possessed fabulous wealth, acquired
through untiring toil and integrity in business: he was involved in
the sale of natural silk. The Lebanese entrusted their products to
him, which he then sold in Syria and elsewhere. He was charged with
attending to the spiritual and material affairs of the Maronite
Patriarch in Syria.
going about his business, Francis said his morning prayers with his
family, attended Liturgy, and took communion. He was always at the
disposal of the priests in his community, devoting his time and
money to them. His magnanimity and his generosity were not limited
to his family and fellow churchgoers. His popularity went beyond the
Syrian borders, and in Lebanon, it was told, they announced his
arrival from village to village by tolling bells.
and slender, Abdel Mohti preferred solitude. He lived with his wife
and children in his brother Francis’s house. Abdel Mohti spent his
life raising and educating his children. His teachings were
impregnated with a deep faith and true piety. One of his students
testified that Abdel Mohti would often repeat to them: “The
Christian must always be ready to spill his blood for the love of
Christ, and that man’s greatest joy is to receive the grace of
Mohti attended the Holy Sacrament each day and fasted all of Lent,
without tasting even oil. He observed all holy days and religious
ceremonies and taught his children the psalms and religious chants.
In church, Abdel Mohti kneeled directly on the ground, erect,
without leaning, and stayed thus throughout each Liturgy. His knees,
according to his student George, became hard and callous.
of his teaching career, he went into business; but his delicate
conscience forced him to close shop for fear of “deceiving his
customers.” From that day forward, he dedicated his life to prayer
Raphael was short, feeble-bodied, black-eyed, and simple-hearted.
Devout, he prayed to the Virgin Mary with a pure and filial heart;
he often turned to her in his business dealings. Raphael was humble.
He lived as a poor bachelor, but rich in the love of God, and
received the grace of martyrdom with his brothers.
1860, Ahmed Pasha ruled Syria. A sectarian tyrant, nothing would
prevent him from achieving his ends.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
the calm had returned, witnesses assure, the three martyred brothers
were buried with the Franciscan Priests, martyrs for their faith.
years passed from the time of the heroic death of the three Massabki
brothers. God then allowed the revival of their memory. In
accordance with the Patriarch, the Apostolic Nuncio, and the
community Bishops, Msgr. Chemaly, Maronite archbishop of Damascus,
addressed a letter to the Vatican imploring the Holy Father to join
the beatification of the three Maronite martyrs to that of their
companions, the Franciscan Priests: “It was on the same date” said
he, “and for the same faith, that they gave their lives.” The letter
also begged the Holy Father to pay particular attention to this
request, so that the beatification of the three martyrs would be a
source of grace for the Damascus community and a rebirth of
Christian life in the hearts of the Eastern faithful. This letter
aroused particular interest in Pius XI, who ordered Msgr. Salotti to
attend to the matter without delay. On May 10, Msgr. Chemaly
received a letter from Msgr. Salotti, requesting documents and
testimonials of the martyrdom of the Massabkis.
telegram provided the requisite assurances to Msgr. Salotti, who
arrived in Beirut September 6. The Committee began studying the
documents and interrogating several witnesses. Three days later, the
Committee returned to Damascus where they heard the deposition of
Sir Nicholas Kadi and the testimony of several noteworthy Damascans.
To conclude the study, it heard the testimony of the Maronite Vicar
of Damascus, Father Abraham Massabki. Before returning to Rome,
Msgr. Salotti confided to Msgr. Chemaly: “If I die on the way, your
martyrs’ cause will not perish.”
October 7, 1926, His Holiness Pius XI proclaimed the beatification
of the three brothers.
the power of these lines are named Most Blessed Martyrs the servants
of God Francis, Abdel Mohti, and Raphael Massabki, Maronites of
Damascus…and we hereby permit the display of their relies before all
the devout, and the celebration, on their day of remembrance, of the
Liturgy of the Martyrs.
Taken from Pentalogie Antiocienne/domaine Maronite by Y. Moubarac