Salvatore Lilli (d. 1895)

Bl. Salvatore Lilli was a Franciscan priest and martyr killed by the Muslim Turks in 1895, the chief of a band of eight friars all killed on November 22nd (Baldji Oghlou Ohannes, David Oghlou David, Geremia Oghlou Boghos, Khodianin Oghlou Kadir, Kouradji Oghlou Tzeroum, Dimbalac Wartavar, Toros Oghlou David). Armenia had been part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, but by the 1890's the Ottoman Empire's territorial integrity was fracturing amidst the pressures of the European colonial powers in the West and Russia in the East, who were all chipping away at Ottoman territories.

The Christians of Armenia were highly suspect of western sympathies by the Turks, who viewed the Armenians as a kind of fifth column within the Empire, a potentially rebellious population who were viewed as an extension of the Christian west. Thus, between 1894 and 1897, the Sultan Abdul Hamid II ordered the massacres of Armenians throughout the Empire, ostensibly with the purpose of preemptively crushing possible nationalist revolts, but in reality to annihilate the Christian population of the Ottoman Empire. For much of the decade, Christians were murdered indiscriminately throughout Armenia and Turkey, with worst massacres occurring in the highlands of Anatolia. The massacres claimed between 80,000 to 300,000 lives and have been named the Hamidian Massacres after Sultan Abdul Hamid who ordered them.

It was in the midst of these massacres that Salvatore Lilli and his seven companions were captured by the Turkish military when they passed through the region of Mujuk-Dersi. Fr. Salvatore had just been appointed parish priest and Superior of the Franciscan House at Mujukderesi. He already enjoyed a reputation as a local saint for his heroic efforts during a cholera epidemic in 1891. His parishioners urged him to flee Turkey, but he refused.

On November 22, 1895, the occupying Turks arrested Fr. Salvatore, several of his parishioners and some of his brother friars. The friars were ordered to renounced Christianity and embrace Islam. When they refused, they were beaten and tortured by the Turks. After again being asked to embrace Islam and again refusing, the Turks bayonetted Fr. Salvatore and his companions, as well as the entire congregation that fell into their hands. The bodies of Fr. Salvatore and his companions were desecrated and burned by their Turkish killers.

Bl. Salvatore Lilli and his companions were beatified by John Paul II on Oct. 3, 1982.