A man who prays lives out the mystery of existence, and a man who does not pray scarcely exists.
Saint Charbel was a Maronite monk and priest from Lebanon and is known among the Lebanese Christians as the "Miracle Monk of Lebanon"
Saint Charbel Makhlouf was born as Youssef Antoun Makhlouf in Bekaa Kafra, Lebanon on May 8th, 1828. He was one of five children total in the family. His father tragically died when Saint Charbel was only three, leaving his wife a widow and the only carer for the family. A few years later however, she married a local man who sought out Holy Orders and became the Parish priest for the town. As he grew, Saint Charbel was totally immersed in the lives of the Saints as he cared for his family's flack. Often during the day he would take the flock to a nearby grotto and spend the day in prayer next to an icon of the Virgin Mary.
This life of quiet prayer each day was also aided by his two uncles, both of whom lived as hermits in the mountains. In 1851, Saint Charbel left home to join the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of Our Lady in Layfouq. Shortly after joining he transferred to the Monastery of Saint Maron in Annaya near Beirut. It was at the Monastery of Saint Maron that he received the habit and took the name Charbel after Saint Charbel of Antioch, the second century martyr. He soon began studying philosophy and theology at the Monastery of Saints Cyprian and Justina in Kfifan under professor Nimatullah Kassab (who would be declared a Saint after his death). On July 23rd, 159, Saint Charbel was ordained a Priest.
In 1875 Saint Charbel received permission to live as a hermit at the Hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul. For the next 23 years he lived a strict ascetic life as a solitary hermit. On December 224th, 1998, Saint Charbel suffered a terrible stroke and passed away. He was interred at Saint Maron's Monastery on Christmas day but weather conditions hindered the pallbearers. George Emmanuel Abi-Saseen, one of the pallbearers would later write:
"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."
Several months after his death, superiors of the monastery witnessed a bright light surrounding his tomb and when they opened it they found his body to be completely intact, free of any decomposition. After opening his tomb, a blood-like liquid flowed from his body and visiting medical experts were unable to give any natural cause for it. In 1950 and 1952, the tomb was reopened and the body found to still be in corrupt and flexile as if it were still alive. The postulator of the cause of canonization, Father Joseph Mahfouz, certified the body of Saint Charbel was still preserved intact with no alterations in 1965.
Safeguard the warmth of the family, because all the warmth of the world will not make up for it. - Saint Charbel
There are many, many miracles attributed to Saint Charbel's intercession after his death. In 1936, Sister Maria Abel Kamari, a thirty year old nun became ill with gastric ulcers that were not healing after several surgeries. She soon began to also suffer from osteoporosis that affected her so badly she was left bedridden by 1942. In 1950 she requested to be taken to the tomb of Saint Charbel. When she touched the tomb, she described what felt like an electric shock going throughout her entire body. Miraculously she was able to stand unassisted and was totally cured of her ulcers. The Catholic church used this miracle as one of the certified miracles needed for the cause of beatification.
In 1925, Iskander Obeid was working as a smithy in a blacksmith shop when a piece of metal broke off and became lodged in his eye. By 1937 damage to the eye was so severe that he was unable to see at all out of it and doctors began to recommend removal of the eye despite Iskander's objections. He reverently began to pray in 1950 for Saint Charbel's intercession. One night after his prayers, Iskander fell asleep and had a vision of Saint Charbel coming to him in his dream. Saint Charbel asked him to make pilgrimage to his monastery in Annaya, a request that Iskander undertook. The morning after praying in the monastery at Saint Charbel's tomb he awoke with no pain in his right eye. Medical examinations found the eye completely and totally healed with no medical explanation.
The miracle that led to Saint Charbel's canonization occurred in 1967. Mariam Awad, a Syrian woman living in Lebanon had undergone three surgeries for cancer that had spread to her stomach, intestines and neck. The cancer continued to spread and eventually infected her tonsils, causing extreme difficulty in swallowing and immense pain. The doctor discharged her from the hospital with no further hopes for a medical cure. The cancer had simply spread too far. One night Mariam prayed aloud to Saint Charbel, saying
“Provide me with the cure to this disease. You are a great saint who has cured the blind and the lame. When I recover from this illness, I’ll go thank you in your shrine.”
The very next morning she awoke to find herself symptom free. She left for the hospital where she found astonished doctors that could produce no medical explanation. By day four the lumps on her tonsils were gone and she was cancer free. Several detailed independent medical examinations could establish no medical cause for the healings.
On December 5th, 1965, Pope Paul VI presided over the beatification of Saint Charbel. He told the crowd:
“A hermit of Mount Lebanon is enrolled in the number of the blessed… a new eminent member of monastic sanctity has by his example and his intercession enriched the entire Christian people … may he make us understand, in a world largely fascinated by wealth and comfort, the paramount value of poverty, penance and asceticism, to liberate the soul in its ascent to God.”
Twelve years later, On October 9th, 1977, Pope Paul VI presided at the canonization of Saint Charbel. Bishop Francis Zayek, head of the US Diocese of Saint Maron wrote:
“St. Sharbel is called the second St. Anthony of the Desert, the Perfume of Lebanon, the first Confessor of the East to be raised to the Altars according to the actual procedure of the Catholic Church, the honor of our Aramaic Antiochian Church, and the model of spiritual values and renewal. Sharbel is like a Cedar of Lebanon standing in eternal prayer, on top of a mountain.”
He also wrote that the canonization and beatification causes of others in the Maronite Church prove:
“that the Aramaic Maronite Antiochian Church is indeed a living branch of the Catholic Church and is intimately connected with the trunk, who is Christ, our Savior, the beginning and the end of all things.”
A shrine dedicated to Saint Charbel was inaugurated at Saint Patrick's Cathedral on October 28th, 2017. Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi attended the ceremony together.
His feast day is celebrated in the Catholic Church on July 24th.