Beirut (AsiaNews) - The
Syrian Greek-Catholic Church has three "true martyrs". They are the
"three men from Maaloula who refused to repudiate their faith," and
were killed for this reason, said Patriarch Gregory III Laham during his meeting with Pope Francis
on Sunday, this
according to a press release issued by the Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch and
All the East, of Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Melkites.
The events that led to the
three men's death occurred during fighting on 3 -7 September in the town of
According to eyewitness
accounts, men from the Syrian Free Army and the Jabhat al-Nusra Islamic Front
carried out a coordinated attack in order to take control of Maaloula.
When the town fell, a
climate of fear was imposed, witnesses said. When three men refused to
repudiate their religion, they were summarily executed in public, and six more
were taken hostage. This was followed by a failed attempt by Syrian government
forces to retake the town (pictured).
III told the pope, "spoke to us, asking us not to let the flame of hope
die in our hearts . . . . We want to be martyrs on this earth, martyrs in
blood, as was the case for some of our faithful, including the three men from
Maaloula: Michel Thalab, Mtanios Thalab and Sarkis Zachem."
"Holy Father, they are
true martyrs. Ordered to give up their faith, they proudly refused. Three
others however gave in and were forced to declare themselves Muslim, but later
returned to the faith of their ancestors."
According to what the
families who fled from Maaloula had to say, some of their Muslim neighbours
took part in the attack that devastated this historic village where people still
speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Muslims are approximately one third of
the population of the village, which is about 50 kilometres from Damascus.
"Our Church, which you
love, today is a church in distress," the Patriarch said. "For this
church, which is facing an unprecedented situation in its history, you are
Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross."
"Like the Blessed Pope
John Paul II who, through his prayers and brave actions brought down the Berlin
Wall, you, Holy Father, have performed a miracle, calling on Christians and the
whole world to fast and pray. You brought about a turning point in the Syrian
crisis and in the vision of global politics. The world, after 7
September 2013, has changed."