Relics of Saint Charbel Visit Buffalo Area
On Tuesday, May 10, 2016, the first-class relics of St. Charbel (also spelled as Sharbel) Makhlouf solemnly arrived in the Western New York area, as part of an international visit. The wooden urn containing bones of the famous Lebanese miracle worker was warmly and fervently received and venerated at the local Maronite Rite parish of Saint John Maron (Amherst, New York) where hundreds of Lebanese immigrants and their descendants were joined by Roman Catholics.
While many assisted at the Divine Liturgy, Vespers, a procession and other public prayers held in the Saint’s honor, the vast majority quietly led in the church throughout the two days, pausing before the relics – to venerate and pray before these, and to apply sacramentals to the relics. The deep and tangible prayer of the Lebanese, so characteristic of Eastern Catholicism was edifying and moving.
Post-conciliar beatifications and canonizations are often a source of controversy in the traditionalist movement; some understandingly, often doubt the proof of heroic virtue or miracles wrought through the intercession of those raised to the honors of the altar in the last few decades. But there are several, sure exceptions. Among these are holy mystics, priests and religious of the 19th and 20th Centuries: Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion and Saint Charbel.
Mar (Saint) Charbel was beatified in 1965 and canonized in 1977, by Pope Paul VI. At the close of the Second Vatican Council, immediately preceding the beatification, then- shepherd of the Maronite Rite Catholics in America, Bishop Francis Zayek was told by a Vatican prelate:
“Reading about the holy hermits of the desert, we used to consider many reported facts as mere fables. In the life of Blessed Charbel, however, we notice that these facts are authentic and true. Blessed Charbel is another Saint Anthony of the Desert, or Saint Pachomius, or Saint Paul the Anchorite. It is marvelous to observe how you, Maronites, have preserved the same spirituality of the fathers of the desert throughout the centuries, and at the end of the 19th Century, 1,500 years later, produced a Charbel for the Church.”
At a time in the ecclesiastical history when previously-condemned Modernism took a stranglehold on the Church, especially in condemning lives of the saints and even defined doctrines and dogmas themselves as mere fables, Charbel shone through as a miraculous saint, someone sure and sacred.
Saint Charbel’s true and selfless Maronite monastic observance, a hidden life of prayer and penance, sanctified him. This has been proven and rewarded by Almighty God time and again; indeed the thousands of miracles wrought through Saint Charbel’s intercession, are the authentication, Heaven’s seal of approval and glorification of this exceptional Saint.
In the turbulent 60s, Fr. Mary Louis, Trappist monk of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, better known to us as Thomas Merton wrote the following:
“Sharbel lived as a hermit in Lebanon – he was a Maronite. He died. Everyone forgot about him. Fifty years later, his body was discovered incorrupt and in short time he worked over 600 miracles. He is my new companion. My road has taken a new turning. It seems to me that I have been asleep for nine years– and before that I was dead.”
One cannot help but think that if Merton had continued to follow Saint Charbel and his example of monastic fidelity, he would have avoided falling back ‘asleep’ through his flirting with false, oriental religions and ‘mysticism,’ and his untimely death itself.
Prayer to Saint Charbel
Lord, in nitely Holy and Glori ed in Your Saints, Thou didst inspire Charbel, the saint monk, to lead the perfect life of a hermit. We thank Thee for granting him the blessing and the strength to detach himself from the world so that the heroism of the monastic virtues of poverty, obedience, and chastity, could triumph in his hermitage. We beseech Thee to grant us the grace of loving and serving Thee following his example.
Almighty God, Who has manifested the power of St. Charbel’s intercession through his countless miracles and favors, grant us ... (state your intention[s] here ...) through his intercession.
Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be ...
Saint Charbel, Maronite Monk of Miracles
Charbel Makhlouf was born on May 8, 1828, in the small village of Biqa-Kafra in the high mountains of Northern Lebanon. His parents were poor but religious, and their fifth child was attracted at an early age to prayer and solitude. In spite of the opposition of his family, he left home at the age of twenty-three and entered the Monastery of St. Maroun at a place called Annaya. Ordained priest in 1859, he spent 16 years there before receiving permission from his reluctant superiors to retire to the nearby hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul.
It had taken over seven years for his wish to be granted. Only exceptional monks were allowed such a privilege. A sign that he was ready to leave the secure environment of the monastery came about in a strange way. Given a request to prepare an urgent report, Charbel sat down at night to work on it. To his dismay he found his lamp had run out of oil. He asked one of the monastery’s lay servants to ll it for him. By way of a joke the servant filled it with water, but was amazed to see that the lamp lit up immediately and continued to burn brightly. The Superior, when advised of this, removed the lamp to check it for himself. To his amazement he found it was indeed full of water. He took this as a sign from above that Charbel was ready to live the severe life of a hermit.
For the remaining 23 years of his existence Charbel lived an extremely hard life, one of severe mortification. He wore a hair shirt, slept on a straw mattress with a plank for a pillow, and for his one meal of the day was content to eat the meagre leftovers from the monastery. He displayed a remarkable devotion to the Eucharist, spending hours in preparation for saying Mass and hours in thanksgiving afterwards.
The Miraculous Light
In 1898 Charbel suffered a massive stroke while saying Mass and died just eight days later on Christmas Eve. He was 70 years old. After three days he was buried in the monastery cemetery, and as was the custom, without the benefit of a coffin. Like many a holy monk before him he would soon have been forgotten were it not for a very strange happening. For the next 45 nights his tomb was surrounded by a dazzlingly bright light. This was witnessed by an increasingly large number of people, none of whom could provide an explanation. Permission was sought from the ecclesiastical authorities for the monk’s body to be exhumed.
On the night he died the monks from the monastery nearby had rushed to the hermitage to kiss his hands and to be blessed by touching his body. Many spent the whole night kneeling in prayer beside him. The snow was falling heavily and it was extremely cold, which was not surprising since the hermitage was fourteen hundred metres above sea level. Those keeping vigil asked each other: ‘If we’re suffering so much for only one night, how was Father Charbel able to live here for 23 years?’
They could see that he must have endured fatigue, hunger, poverty and cold with the courage of a martyr. The local villagers, many of whom had received Communion over the years at his hands, recalled his holiness, his continuous prayer and hard work, his meekness and his prudent silence.
His Holy Remains Are Found Incorrupt
Eventually permission for his exhumation was given and four months after Charbel’s death a crowd gathered to witness it. To everyone’s surprise his body was found to be perfectly preserved, even though the grave had been flooded by heavy rains, leaving the body floating on a sea of mud. Charbel was lifted out and given fresh clothing before being placed in a wooden coffin in a corner of the monastery’s private chapel. However, it was found necessary to change his clothing twice per week because of a strange liquid exuding continually from the pores of the body. Described as a mixture of perspiration and blood, it just kept coming. Pieces of cloth soaked in this uid were soon being distributed as relics and credited with effecting cures.
His Incorrupt Remains Are Examined By Physicians
In 1927, more than 28 years after his death, Charbel’s still incorrupt body was examined by two physicians of the French Medical Institute at Beirut, then transferred to another cof n lined with zinc, before being placed in a new tomb inside the wall of an oratory. In the Holy Year 1950, pilgrims to his shrine reported seeing liquid oozing from a corner of the tomb. When the tomb was opened up it was found to be dry and the coffin also, except for a viscous liquid which was seen seeping through a crack at its base. Two months later, after permission had been obtained from the ecclesiastical authorities, the seal on the coffin was broken and the body was examined. Once again it was found to be free of any trace of corruption and the strange fluid continued to issue from its pores.
Miraculous Cures and the Road to Canonization
Since then the shrine has been besieged by thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. In 1950, the monastery started keeping records of miracles attributed to Charbel. In less than two years it accumulated more than 1,200 such claims.
As early as 1925 the monk’s name had been put forward in a petition to Pope Pius XI to begin canonical proceedings leading to his beatification, but this did not happen until 1965 during the reign of Pope Paul VI. Two cures accepted as being miraculous were necessary and both selected for the purpose had taken place in 1950.
The first of these concerned a nun by the name of Sister Maria Abel Kawary. She had suffered serious intestinal problems for fourteen years and had been given up by doctors as a hopeless case, but after praying all night beside Charbel’s grave she was cured instantaneously. The doctor who examined her at the time recorded her cure as ‘a supernatural happening which is beyond man’s power to explain.’
The second miracle accepted by the Sacred Congregation was the restoration of sight to a blacksmith named Iskandar Oubeid. He had lost the sight in one eye after suffering a blow to it while at work. Eminent eye specialists announced that the damage to the iris was so severe that he would never see through it again. Thirteen years later he took the advice of friends to visit the tomb of Father Charbel. On returning home he had a dream in which a monk appeared, promising to cure him. The next morning he found he could see perfectly out of both eyes. No medical explanation could be found.
The most famous of Charbel’s cures also occurred in the year 1950. It caused a stir not only in Beirut, but in the whole of Lebanon. The recipient was a 50-year-old seamstress named Mountaha Daher Boulos who had been a hunchback since the age of one after contracting typhoid fever. Her story is rather touching. While visiting the monk’s tomb she stood some distance off and prayed for her two orphan nephews who were in need of help. The only request she made on her own behalf was that she might keep her sight so that she could continue working as a seamstress.
Three days later, after returning home, she woke up in the morning to discover that the hump on her back had disappeared. Her doctor confirmed this, while her parish priest testified to the fact that ‘her silhouette has suddenly become perfectly normal!’
On Oct. 9, 1977, just 12 years after his beatification, Pope Paul VI presided over the canonization proceedings and announced to the world that Blessed Charbel had joined the ranks of saints in Heaven. The saint’s body,
however, did not remain incorrupt. By 1965 it was found to have succumbed to the laws of nature, leaving only bones of a reddish colour. Evidently the previous years were sufficient to prove the good monk’s sanctity, while miracles attributed to his intervention have continued to this day.
One of the most recent took place in 1993 when Nohad El Shami, a 55-year- old woman suffering from partial paralysis caused by a severe hemiplegia,
reported seeing two monks in a dream. One of these, whom she identified as Charbel, ‘operated’ on her neck, and when she awoke she discovered she was completely healed. The second monk in her dream was believed to be Saint Maroun, a 5th Century Syrian Christian martyr who founded the Maronite Order.
As Joan Carroll Cruz relates in her excellent study entitled The Incorruptibles, pilgrims “continue to climb the cedared hills of Lebanon to the shrine of this once perfectly preserved saint.” She goes on to say: “May the veneration now deservedly lavished on the memory of Saint Charbel be renewed in equal measure in favor of all those incorruptibles from past ages who await in the shadows of their reliquaries the day of their glorious resurrection.”