The Wonderworker Born May 8, 1828North Lebanon), Bekaa Kafra ( Died December 24, 1898(aged 70) Honored in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
Beatified December 5, 1965, Pope Paul VI Canonized October 9, 1977 by Pope Paul VI Feast July 17
Charbel, Sharbel, or Sharbel Makhluf, (Arabic: مار شربل, May 8, 1828 – December 24, 1898), born as Youssef Antoun Makhlouf in Bekaa Kafra in northern Lebanon, was a Syriac-Maronite monk and priest, canonized saint by the Roman Catholic Church and now venerated world-wide.
On May 8, 1828, in the mountain village of Biqa-Kafra, Lebanon, Youssef was born to a poor Maronite family. From childhood his life revealed a calling to "bear fruit as a noble Cedar of Lebanon." He was raised by an uncle because his father, a mule driver, had died when Youssef was only two years old.
Charbel "grew in age and wisdom before God and men" (Luke 2:52) and, at the age of 23, he entered the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq (north of Byblos). After a two-year novitiate, in 1853, he was sent to St. Maron monastery where he pronounced the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience taking the name 'Charbel' in honor of a second-century martyr. He was taught by Father Nimatullah (who later became Saint Hardini) in the Seminary of Kfifan between 1853 and 1856, where he studied philosophy and theology, and was ordained six years later. He was then sent back to St. Maron Monastery. His teacher provided him a good education and nurtured within him a deep love for monastic life.
During his 16 years at St. Maron monastery, Charbel performed his priestly ministry and his monastic duties in an edifying way. He totally dedicated himself to Christ with undivided heart and desired to live in silence following the example of the fifth-century St. Maron. His 23 years of solitary life were lived in a spirit of total abandonment to God.
Charbel lived as a hermit from 1875 until his death. His reputation for holiness prompted people to seek him to receive a blessing and to be remembered in his prayers. He kept a strict fast and was very devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. When his superiors occasionally asked him to administer the sacraments to nearby villages, Charbel did so gladly.
Charbel's companions in the hermitage were the Son of God, as encountered in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, and his Blessed Mother. The Eucharist became the center of his life. He consumed the Bread of Life and was consumed by it. Though this hermit did not have a place in the world, the world had a great place in his heart. Through prayer and penance he offered himself as a sacrifice so that the world would return to God.
It is in this light that one sees the importance of the following Eucharistic prayer in his life:
"Father of Truth, behold Your Son a sacrifice pleasing to You, accept the offering of Him who died for me…"
On December 16, 1898, while reciting the "Father of Truth" prayer at the Holy Liturgy Charbel suffered a stroke. Father Charbel spent the night before Christmas, 1898, in church, following his usual custom of twenty-three years, ever since he became a hermit. But that last night, he lay down, neither awake, nor praying, nor meditating; he was asleep, sleeping the sleep of death. His soul, however, was with God, quite awake, in the eternal awakening. This was the last night Father Charbel would spend in the church of Saints Peter and Paul. Contrary to his custom and for the first time, Father Charbel lay on the floor, on his mat of hair, with his face exposed.
His face was never seen when he was alive. He always kept his head down in church, at work or when walking, always looking to the ground. He would lift his eyes only to heaven. When in church, he always faced the altar with his eyes fixed on the tabernacle. However, when he died and lay face upward, his eyes were closed, still not looking at anyone, exactly as in his lifetime. Holding vigil at the body of the Servant of God in church, were his companions of the hermitage, Father Macarius Mishmshany, and Brother Francis of Artaba, along with a group of monks from the monastery of St. Maron. As soon as they learned of the passing of Father Charbel they rushed to the hermitage to kiss his hands and to be blessed by touching his body while bidding him farewell. Many spent most of the night kneeling near him, praying.
The snow was coming down heavily, accumulating on the hermitage and on the neighboring mountains and valleys. It was extremely cold and windy, to such a degree that those keeping vigil around the saintly remains were trembling from the severity of the cold. Little wonder since the hermitage is one thousand and four hundred meters above sea level, on a high summit exposed to the wind.
Those keeping vigil were asking one another, "If we are suffering so much for only one night in this severe winter, how was Father Charbel able to live twenty-three years here spending every night of his life, kneeling on bamboo, in pain from midnight until the time of his Mass at 9:00 o'clock in the morning, fasting and immobile as the stone statue erected on the floor before the altar. Truly, this hermit was a saint. He endured fatigue, hunger, poverty and cold with the courage of a martyr. Every minute of his life was martyrdom, without complaint. No doubt he is now finding the reward of his marvelous martyrdom, with God."
Who could dare venture out that night, from the hermitage, from the monastery, or from the neighboring villages? Heavy snow had blocked all roads with an accumulation of three to six feet in some places. The monks were wondering if tomorrow they would be able to transfer the body of Father Charbel to the cemetery of the monastery in the extremely severe weather and with so much snow. How could they notify the people of the death of the saint under these circumstances? The neighbors would be very disappointed and sorry, not only because of the death of Father Charbel but also because they would be unable to bid him a last farewell and be blessed by him before he was buried. But the news of his passing quickly reached all neighboring villages like lightning, even though there were no telephones and no automobiles.
The conversation of the villagers that night was about Father Charbel and his holiness. Each recalled what he knew of his outstanding virtue, his poverty, humility, angelic purity, his amazing obedience, his continuous prayer and hard work, his observance of the monastic rules, his meekness and especially his perpetual silence, that prudent and holy silence.
The people of Lebanon also remembered his continuous communication with God, his love of the Blessed Sacrament, his devotion to the Virgin Mary, his compassion to the poor and the sick and his miracles. The stories would end with these words: "We are happy for him. He is a saint who went straight to heaven."
It seemed as if the angels themselves, who had announced to the shepherds of Bethlehem the Nativity of the Savior of the world, now proclaimed that heaven had gained a newborn, in the person of Father Charbel, a ripe fruit of the Nativity of our Divine Savior, who himself was born humbly in a manger in Bethlehem.
That night everyone who knew of the passing of Father Charbel was wondering, "Will the snow stop tomorrow so we can visit Father Charbel for the last time, participate in his funeral, and bid him goodbye?"
On the morning of Christmas, 1898, the monks at the monastery and the people of the villages nearby, awakened early and saw the sky cloudy and dark and the ground, from the mountains to the valleys, covered with bright white snow with the trees shimmering like crystal chandeliers. No voice could be heard, only the howling of the wind. The cold was extreme, the roads were blocked. There were indications that more snow was on the way. They didn't think they could make it to the hermitage for the transfer of the body of Father Charbel to St. Maron’s Monastery. They believed that those at the hermitage would have to bury Father Charbel in the church of the hermitage. Nevertheless, young men from Annaya and its neighborhood, wearing their winter clothes and their heavy boots and wrapping some covering around their heads so that only their eyes were visible, carried shovels to clear the road of the snow and to lean on it as a support while making their way. With courage, they faced the mounds of snow, so they could see their "saint," and have the honor of carrying his body on their shoulders down to the monastery and then to the grave.
At 8:00 a.m., a small group of these young men had gathered and joined the monks who were kneeling near the body of Father Charbel in church. Sorrowfully, together they prayed, their eyes fixed on Father Charbel who radiated the image of God in the most perfect way possible to man through the grace of God and because of his own voluntary efforts. Each one respectfully said, "He is a saint! Lucky him! God took him today to give him rest from his labors and to grant him reward of his virtues."
At 9:00 a.m., they brought a casket made of three wooden boards nailed to a slab extending from both ends, so it could be carried on the shoulders of the pallbearers. On it they put a mat of hair. Then the hermit, Father Macarius Mishmshany, with tears in his eyes, the monks, and the brothers who had come from the monastery when Father Charbel died, placed the body in the casket, then carrying it on their shoulders, began the descent from the hermitage to the monastery. The road was rugged. The strong men had shoveled some of the snow but more was falling, threatening to block the road again. The pallbearers were afraid they would drop the casket and the body because it was very difficult to walk the path leading to the hermitage. However, Father Macarius said to them, "Rely on God, do not be afraid; Father Charbel will make it easy for us."
They had hardly left the door of the church when the rain, the snow and the wind stopped all at once. Little by little the clouds began to clear. The pallbearers had no trouble at all. In fact, carrying the body to the hermit age was easy. They exclaimed: "Miracle! This is one of Father Charbel's miracles."
George Emmanuel Abi-Saseen of Mishmash, a resident of Annaya, and one of the bearers, testified in the 17th Session, which took place on Oct. 13, 1926. After swearing to tell the truth and kneeling in the church with his right hand on the Holy Gospel, he said: "Father Charbel died on the eve of Christmas; the snow was heavy. We transferred him to the monastery on Christmas day. Before we moved him, the snow was falling rapidly and the clouds were very dark. When we carried him, the clouds disappeared, and the weather cleared."
Brother Peter of Mishmash, of the Lebanese order, a servant at the hermitage during the life of Father Charbel, testified that he was present at the death and at the funeral (Page 38 of the Investigation). "On the day of the funeral, it was raining and snowing."
How great is the Lord and how great is His mercy and love for those who fear Him. He send His angel before everyone of these "lest they dash their foot against a stone" (Ps. 91:12).
He is the One who calmed the rough area and walked upon it. He is the One who gave orders to the wind: "Be calm," and it became calm. He gave orders to the wind at the mountain of Annaya and commanded the tempest and the snow to "Stop!" and they did. The clouds disappeared the weather cleared. It seems that God had provided that the angels cooperate and see the face of His servant, Job. His beloved Charbel has endured patiently the suffering and the weakness of the body and the ridicule of those who mock the deeds of Christian heroism and the monastic and eremetic life, those who laugh at abstinence and mortification. Father Charbel was buried in the St. Maron Monastery cemetery in Annaya. A few months later, dazzling lights were seen around the grave. From there, his corpse, which had been secreting sweat and blood, was transferred to a special coffin. Hordes of pilgrims started swarming to the place to obtain his intercession.
Beatification and canonization of Saint Charbel
In 1925, his beatification and canonization were proposed by Pope Pius XI. In 1950 Father George Webby, a Maronite Priest of Scranton PA, United States, visited the monastery which Saint Charbel had lived. While there he had taken a picture of some of the monks standing. When he developed the picture of the monks, the image of Saint Charbel had appeared in the middle of the picture clear as day. The original photograph still exists today. Because of this appearance Charbel's grave was opened in the presence of an official committee which included doctors, who verified the soundness of the body. After the grave had been opened and inspected, it was reputed that the variety of healing incidents multiplied. Again, a multitude of pilgrims of different religions started flocking to the Annaya Monastery seeking the saint's intercession. Several post-mortem miracles are attributed to him, including periods in 1927 and 1950 when a bloody "sweat" flowed from his corpse, soaking his vestments. His tomb has become a place of pilgrimage for Lebanese and non-Lebanese, Christian and non-Christian alike.
In 1954, Pope Pius XII signed a decree accepting a proposal for the beatification of Charbel Makhlouf, the hermit. On December 5, 1965, Pope Paul VI officiated at the ceremony of the beatification of Father Charbel during the closing of the Second Vatican Council. In 1976, Pope Paul VI signed the decree of canonization of Blessed Charbel. That canonization took place in the Vatican on October 9, 1977.
Among the many miracles related to Saint Charbel the Church chose two of them to declare the beatification, and a third for his canonization. These miracles are:
- the healing of Sister Mary Abel Kamari of the Two Sacred Hearts
- the healing of Iskandar Naim Obeid from Baabdat
- the healing of Mariam Awad from Hammana.
The many miracles performed through Charbel manifest to us how pleased God is with the witness of silence and prayer in the life of his servant. Among the miracles is the incorrupt state of his body, which bled and perspired for sixty-five years after his death. These marvels manifest how the words of St. Paul are still true for our time, "It was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen--those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything" (1 Cor. 1:27-28).
God performed these marvels of signs of life and healing to show us where true wisdom lies, the wisdom of the One who is the beginning and the end of the world, the Ancient of Days, the Provider who said, "Let your hearts be on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well." (Mt. 6:33) He is the One who was yesterday, is today and will be tomorrow.
A great number of miracles were attributed to Saint Charbel since his death. The most famous one is that of Nohad El Shami, a 55-year old woman at the time of the miracle who was healed from a partial paralysis. She tells that on the night of January 22, 1993, she saw in her dream two Maronite monks standing next to her bed. One of them put his hands on her neck and operated on her, relieving her from her pain while the other held a pillow behind her back.
When she woke up, Nohad discovered two wounds in her neck, one on each side. She was completely healed and recovered her ability to walk. She believed that it was Saint Charbel who healed her but did not recognize the other monk. Next night, she again saw Saint Charbel in her dream. He said to her: "I did the surgery to let people see and return to faith. I ask you to visit the hermitage on the 22nd of every month, and attend Mass regularly for the rest of your life”. The second monk is widely believed to be Saint Maron. Since then, and according to Saint Charbel's will, people gather on the 22nd of each month to pray and celebrate the Mass in the hermitage of Saint Charbel in Annaya.
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