Referring to Saturday’s beatification of a martyr-bishop in Lebanon, Pope Francis noted that the number of Christians being martyred today exceeds the number of those who lost their lives during the various persecutions in the Roman empire at the beginning of Christianity.
In Harissa, Lebanon, Syriac Catholic Bishop Flavianus Michael Melki was beatified Saturday.
Born in 1858, he would go on to be an Eastern Catholic prelate of the Brothers of Saint Ephrem, and later the Syrian Catholic eparch of Gazarta, where he would be killed. In the summer of 1915, Ottoman authorities arrested him along with the Chaldean bishop of the time. Both bishops were killed after refusing to renounce their faith and convert to Islam. Melki was tortured to death and decapitated.
The Holy Father said today after praying the midday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square that the bishop, “in the midst of a tremendous persecution of Christians,” was a “tireless defender of the rights of his people, exhorting everyone to remain firm in the faith.”
“Today as well, dear brothers and sisters, in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, Christians are persecuted,” the Pope continued, expressing his wish that the beatification would bring these persecuted Christians “consolation, courage and hope.”
“There are more martyrs now than there were in the first centuries,” he said.
Pope Francis also expressed his hope that legislators and governments would work for the protection of religious freedom across the globe.
“I ask the international community to do something to put an end to the violence and abuse,” he said.
Vatican reporter John Allen, who has written a book called “The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution,” noted in 2013 that “according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.”