BEIRUT — Fares Melki’s first introduction to his great-uncle was when he asked his grandfather about the picture framed above his grandfather’s bed. That was around 60 years ago, when Melki was 10.
“It’s my brother, Padre Leonard. He was killed in Turkey,” his grandfather responded.
“And that was all,” Melki recounted to CNS from Baabdat, Lebanon, the birthplace of Capuchin Franciscan Father Leonard Melki and his fellow Capuchin and martyr, Father Thomas Saleh.
About 10 years later, Melki bought a book about the Armenian genocide and discovered that it included passages from the diary of Fr. Leonard Melki. Meanwhile, Lebanese Capuchin Fr. Salim Rizkallah had been appointed vice postulator of the sainthood cause of Armenian Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Maloyan of Mardin, Turkey. In his research, Fr. Rizkallah learned that Fr. Melki was among the more than 400 Christians martyred with the archbishop in Turkey in 1915. Fr. Saleh was killed two years later.
So began, around 1979, the extensive research collaboration between Melki and Fr. Rizkallah for the cause of canonization of the two martyrs from Baabdat: Fathers Melki and Saleh.
In 2000, during a pilgrimage to Rome for the Jubilee Year, Melki and his sister, Sola, visited the archives of the Capuchin Friars at the Convent of San Lorenzo da Brindisi outside of Rome to research additional documents for the cause.
“We spent all day there, every half hour going outside for some fresh air,” Melki said. They gathered and photocopied 613 pages of documents.
“With these documents, we wrote the first draft of the positio,” a summary of the volumes of records to be presented to the Vatican for the two priests’ sainthood causes.