The Martyrs of Damascus towards Canonization

The Martyrs of Damascus towards Canonization

The Pope has given the green light for the canonization of the “Martyrs of Damascus ”, eight Friars Minor and three Maronite laymen, killed “out of hatred of the faith” in Damascus, in the night between 9 and 10 July 1860. They were the Blessed Manuel Ruiz and his 7 companions of the Order of Friars Minor, and the brothers Francis, Abdel Mooti and Raphael Massabki, lay faithful.

The announcement

The announcement was made by the Vatican on 23 May. It comes almost one hundred years after their beatification, which Pius XI wanted in 1926, and on the eve of the Jubilee. “During the Audience granted to Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints – it says in the Bulletin issued by the Holy See Press Office, “The Supreme Pontiff has approved the favourable votes of the Ordinary Session of the brother Cardinals and brother Bishops for the canonization of the Blessed Martyrs of Damascus.”

The Custos of the Holy Land, fra Francesco Patton, welcomed the news with joy: “The Martyrs of Damascus are a fine image of the Church that has been able to experience the missionary testimony  up to the gift of life,” he said. He then hoped that the new saints will be “a sign of hope for the whole Church in Syria, in particular for our Franciscan presence.  May these martyrs be an example for all of us, friars of the Custody, never to spare ourselves in our mission.” Fra Patton highlighted the joint presence, in the group of martyrs, of Friars Minor and Maronite laymen: “Let it be an example of how the different rites have to collaborate in the Catholic Church and between the different Churches, to make Jesus Christ known and to keep the small but extremely significant and important Christian presence in Syria.”

The story of the Martyrs

The martyrdom was part of the persecution against the Christians by Shiite Druze, which from Lebanon had spread into Syria and caused thousands of victims. In the night between 9 and 10 July 1860, a Druze commando entered the Franciscan convent in the Christian quarter of Bab-Touma, and massacred eight friars - Manuel Ruiz, Carmelo Volta, Nicanor Ascanio, Nicolás M. Alberca y Torres, Pedro Soler, Engelbert Kolland, Francisco Pinazo Peñalver y Juan Jacobo Fernándezand three Christians of the Maronite rite, the Massabki brothers. This was clearly martyrdom: before killing them, the assailants asked them the renounce their Christian faith and embrace Islam: this invitation was firmly rejected.

Emotion and hope in Damascus

The news, anxiously awaited in Damascus, was welcomed with “emotion and hope”, says  fra Firas Lufti, of the Custody of the Holy Land, guardian of the Franciscan convent of  Bab-Touma, where the martyrdom took place and where the relics of the blessed are kept. “This news,” said fra Firas, “comes at a time when the whole of the Middle East, including Syria, is living through moments of drama and conflict, war and crisis. Saintliness is the hope of a new world. Despite the horrors of the sin that man is capable of writing, God, the Lord of history, together with his saints writes history.”

The memory

Every year on  10 July, the liturgical calendar of the Custody of the Holy Land remembers the “Martyrs of Damascus”.  In the Syrian capital, the Latin and Maronite communities usually celebrate this anniversary, which unites its sons in martyrdom. Besides, the three Maronite brothers were also Franciscan tertiaries. “This year the celebration of the memory of the martyrs will have a very particular flavour, because  it will be a taste of sainthood,” fra Firas continued. “The canonization of the martyrs of Damascus will give a new boost to the life of the Christian community: it gives us hope, it shows us where to put our feet on the path towards saintliness, which is the destination of every person who devotes their life to loving God and their neighbour.”

The cause of canonization 

“The revival of the Cause of canonization for the Blessed Martyrs of Damascus,” the website of the  Order of Friars Minor , “has recently been determined by the observation of their ever-growing fame of martyrdom and the ever-increasing signs attributed to the intercession of the eleven Martyrs of Damascus, as well as by the spread of their cult. Associated with this was the hope that their canonization may be a message of dialogue, peace and unity in the Middle East.”

To this end,  the Holy Synod of Maronite Bishops in 2022 presented Pope Francis with a petition for the canonization of the Blessed Massabki Martyrs. The Major Superiors of the Orders of Friars Minor, Minister General and Custos of the Holy Land also joined in the petition, asking for the canonization of the entire group of the eleven Martyrs of Damascus. On 23 March 2023, the Pope authorized the special process for the drafting and study of the special Positio super Canonizatione. Just a little over a year later,  on 23 May 2024, he approved the favourable votes of the Ordinary Session of the Cardinals and Bishops for the canonization and announced the convocation of a Consistory for their canonization.

Marinella Bandini