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updated 4:51 PM UTC, Apr 18, 2024

Two New Venerables

At the audience of January 24, 2024, Pope Francis authorized the prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, to publish the decrees recognizing the heroic virtues of two of our confreres, Bishop Cyril John Zorhabian and Father Gianfranco Maria Chiti.

Bishop Cyril's cause comes as a milestone on the anniversary 120 years ago (Jan. 24, 1904) of his ordination as a deacon (on the same day Blesseds Thomas and Leonard Baabdath received the subdiaconate), after a long journey not without difficulties and obstacles, but always kept alive in the memory of this indefatigable missionary and bishop who experienced persecution and the massacre of his entire family.

More swift and direct was the progress of Father Gianfranco's cause supported by his fellow Grenadiers who recognized in him a living and strong faith that was transformed into precious gestures of charity. His life existed in two parts, military and then Capuchin; nevertheless, they were linked and had continuity: deep adherence to the Lord in attentive listening to his will and word. Attentiveness and compassion for others that could have no model but the Virgin Mary to whom Father Gianfranco was always authentically devoted. Even in the most dramatic moments of his life, as he experienced in the Russian retreat or internment at the end of World War II, the Virgin Mary was his refuge and guide.

The Most Rev. Cirillo Giovanni Zohrabian

Bishop Archbishop Cyril Zohrabian, was most likely born on June 25, 1881 in Erzerum, Turkey. He was schooled by his parents in early childhood from whom he learned the spirit of sacrifice, the first rudiments of catechism and the Armenian language. He later attended the boarding school of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

When he met the Capuchins, the seed of his vocation grew in him and on September 2, 1894, he was welcomed into the friary of Santo Stefano in Istanbul. Admitted to the novitiate on July 14, 1898, he was given the name Cyril. During studies, he was a companion of the two Blesseds Thomas and Leonardo of Baabdath; on May 12, 1904, he received priestly ordination and, having passed the exam for new missionaries, on April 10, 1905, he was assigned to the missionary station of Erzerum (Trebizond), arriving there three months later, on July 16. In addition to the ministry there, he also dedicated himself to teaching in the school he founded.

At the outbreak of World War I, the Servant of God was in Istanbul while the Armenian genocide was taking place during which all his family members were massacred. Only in July of 1920 was he able to reach Trebizond to help the Armenian Greeks who were forcibly expelled from Pontus. And it is precisely because of this work of charity that the Servant of God was expelled from Trebizond on March 7,1923. Arriving in Istanbul he was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. Freed at the last moment he was expelled from Turkey, finding refuge in Greece, where he continued to take care of Armenian refugees. On December 21, 1925, as Superior of the Missions for the Armenians of Greece, he invited the Capuchin brothers of Palermo to Athens.

Appointed Patriarchal Vicar of Gezira (Syria), on 21 November 1938, the Servant of God resolutely left Greece to found the new Ordinariate. Even in this remote region of Syria, the Servant of God became close to the people. On June 8, 1940, he was appointed Titular Bishop of Acilisene, receiving episcopal consecration in Beirut on October 27, 1940, where he met with great esteem Blessed Abouna Yaaqoub (Giacomo da Ghazir). Meanwhile, the Second World War had broken out and his health was deteriorating. For this reason, the Patriarch of the Armenians, Cardinal Gregorio Pietro Agagianian, asked him to resign. In a spirit of obedience, on June 12, 1953, he submitted his resignation.

Settling in Rome, the Servant of God was appointed Apostolic Visitor of the Armenians of Latin America (1953 - 1954). Having failed in his attempt to establish an ordinariate in those regions, he spent the last years of his life tirelessly helping poor Armenian families. He died in Rome on September 20, 1972, in the Capuchin friary of “San Fedele in Urbe.”

The Servant of God was an authentic man, a humble friar, a poor bishop, a faithful disciple of Christ who did not wait for conditions to be favorable to proclaim the Gospel or live forgiveness or bring consolation or give bread to those who had none. He started with what he had, always open to God's providence and sure of the Lord’s presence, always! He knew in his deep faith that if he had kept for himself, the miracle of sharing and the beauty of a fraternity would never have happened.

Animas Deo: “Give me souls to take to God” was the episcopal motto of the Servant of God. In it is encapsulated his spending of himself for the Lord who had called him, as a faithful and righteous servant, to share and accompany the martyrdom of the Armenian people. A faithfulness learned as a child from his parents, Vartan and Sara Ohannessian, killed during the great genocide, who not only taught him by word to love Christ crucified, but also set an example for him by their “martyrdom.” A fidelity that did not make him flinch even in the face of imprisonment, torture (he was subjected to the beating of the soles of his feet: 60 blows five times) and even a death sentence.

His feet thus became the icon of his passion for Christ and the Armenian people. And from Christ, the Servant of God would learn to forgive not only those who had caused him harm, but also those from whom he would have expected real help.

Admired for his poverty and humility, today the Church recognizes his life as having been lived in heroic virtue; he is presented to all believers as a tireless missionary, loving father and a sign of peace for a troubled world.

Venerable Father Gianfranco Maria Chiti

Father Gianfranco Maria Chiti was born on May 6, 1921, in Gignese, Novara. He spent his childhood and adolescence in Pesaro, where his father taught violin at that city's conservatory. From an early age he had his first contact with the Secular Third Order Franciscans and the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul.

After attending the 5th secondary school, he entered the Military College in Rome on October 30, 1936 and was then admitted to attend the Military Academy of Modena on November 1, 1939. On April 29, 1941 he entered service in the 3rd Regiment of the 21st Infantry Division “Granadiers of Sardinia,” participating in war operations in Slovenia and on the Greek-Albanian front. Assigned to the 8th Army deployed on the Eastern Front, he participated in the Russian campaign from June 1942 until May 1943. During the retreat of the Italian Army in Russia he stayed close beside the few survivors of his company, having endured frostbite on both legs.

Returning to Italy, the armistice of September 8, 1943, came to pass while he was in the north of the Peninsula. True to the oath he took, he went into the service of the Italian Social Republic, operating in a Grenadier unit. He always prevented his men from carrying out atrocities, and thus saved the lives of numerous partisans and even some Jews.

Upon the arrival of the Allies, the Servant of God was arrested and subsequently interned in the concentration camps of Tombolo and Laterina and subjected to purge proceedings before the Military Tribunal from which he emerged completely exonerated. From 1945 to 1948, while waiting for re-employment in the Italian Army, he taught mathematics at the high school of Giuseppe Calasanzio degli Scolopi in Campi Salentina in the province of Lecce. In March 1948, he was reinstated in the ranks of the Italian Army at the request of the same prosecution and shortly afterwards sent to Somalia, a nation entrusted to Italy by the UN after the end of the colonial presence and for the transition to independence. Returning to Italy in June 1954, he directed the Somali Officer Cadet Course at the Cesano Infantry School. From October 20, 1973 to January 10, 1978, he was appointed Commander of the Army Non-Commissioned Officers School in Viterbo, when he was put on leave, having reached the age limit, with the rank of brigadier general. 

On 30 May 1978 he was admitted into the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin by entering the friary of Rieti as a postulant. On November 1, 1979, at the end of his novitiate, he took religious vows, and was ordained a priest on September 12, 1982. In 1990, with the help of “his Grenadiers” he began to restore the ancient monastery of San Crispino da Viterbo in Orvieto, transforming it into a place of prayer and spiritual meetings. Following a car accident on 9 July 2004, he was admitted to the Celio military hospital in Rome, where he died on 20 November 2004. He was buried in the family chapel in the Pesaro cemetery.

He had a lively Eucharistic devotion and entrusted himself to the Virgin Mary, under whose protection he found refuge with the recitation of the Rosary. He adhered to these as to his love for the Lord Jesus Christ. If for Chiti in his military state this meant living fully and consistently the virtues of a soldier: loyalty, sense of honor, fidelity and courage, then for Chiti in his vocation as a Capuchin friar, Gianfranco Maria, this meant living intensely obedience, poverty, humility and total self-giving.

The Servant of God made this motto his own: “life is a gift received and a wealth that must be given.” From these words, the experience of his spirituality emerges. That of a man, soldier and friar, who knew with certainty that the more one ‘keeps’ his life, the more it loses its value, rendering it incapable of launching the firepower called love, and which is given to men by Jesus who “for loving man too much, suffered in Gethsemane and was crucified”.

Last modified on Thursday, 01 February 2024 16:22