Vatican City — As members of the Syriac Catholic Church face severe persecution in Iraq and Syria, Pope Francis formally recognized the martyrdom of one of their bishops who was killed in 1915.
Signing the decree recognizing the martyrdom of Syriac Bishop Flavien-Michel Malke clears the way for his beatification. Pope Francis signed the decree Aug. 8.
As the Ottoman Empire crumbled in the early 1900s, there were waves of violence and persecution against Christian minorities, especially the Armenians and Syrians. Malke was the Syriac Catholic bishop of Gazireh, which today is the city of Cizre, Turkey. Although advised to flee, the bishop stayed with his people, was arrested and beheaded.
Fr. Rami Al Kabalan, postulator or promoter of Malke's cause, told Vatican Radio, "He played a fundamental role in encouraging the people to defend their faith during that difficult era, during the persecutions of the Ottoman Empire.
"He lived in extreme poverty and even sold his liturgical vestments to help the poor," Father Al Kabalan said.
One hundred years after the bishop's death Aug. 29, 2015, "we Eastern Christians are undergoing almost the same persecutions," the priest said. "For us, the figure of this martyr gives us courage to defend our faith and live our faith; we do not have to be afraid, despite the difficult circumstances facing all Eastern Christians in Iraq and Syria."
According to the Vatican, the bishop was born in 1858 in Qal'at Mara in what is now southeastern Turkey. Although his family was Orthodox, he became a Syriac Catholic and joined the Fraternity of St. Ephrem. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1883 and named bishop of Gazireh in 1913.