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Special Features
Day 2: Antilyas, Lebanon


St. Elias Maronite church.(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
St. Elias was an Old Testament figure who slew the priest of Baal; St. Charbel was a 19th century Lebanese Maronite who became a hermit and is known for his silence and selfless prayer. So what could the two possibly have in common? Just the devotion of an entire nation.

Lebanon has been ripped apart by war for decades and is an often volatile blend of faith traditions and confessions, with a primarily Shiite Muslim southern region and a mainly Christian northern region. Where the two sides meet is in their appreciation for Elias and Charbel.


Children's Mass at St. Elias, November 7.(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
St. Elias Maronite Church in Antelias is a parish of some 40,000 Christians, and it’s renowned throughout the Middle East. The faithful have been known to visit from well beyond Lebanon’s borders, and on St. Elias’ feast day, July 20, Muslims and Christians alike participate in Eucharistic adoration in the wee hours.

According to Brother Peter Haddad, that’s because St. Elias is a “common point” for both religions due to his roots in the Old Testament. Haddad, 24, who will take his vows Dec. 26, says Elias is someone all faith traditions can believe in.

Parishioner Tamara Chamoun, 13, echoed those sentiments—and clearly plans to live out a message of peace as she practices her faith into adulthood. “We’re all God’s sons and daughters,” said Chamoun, who said she has close friends who are Muslims. “God doesn’t separate us. … He likes us equal.”

Shrine of St. Charbel.(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
That same spirit can be witnessed at the shrine to St. Charbel at the Monastery of St. Maron in Annaya. The shrine receives 4 billion visitors a year, many who come seeking Charbel’s intercession for physical or spiritual healing.

Father Louis Matar, who was superior of the monastery for 23 years and officially records Charbel’s miracles, said the desire for grace crosses lines of all faiths and confessions. One of Matar’s favorite stories, in fact, tells of an Iranian Shiite family whose son was in a coma following an accident. While at the hospital, the man’s mother met a Maronite Lebanese woman and told the Christian she and her family had lost their faith. The Maronite gave a picture of Charbel to the distraught mother, who in turn put the photo under her son’s pillow. Indeed, the young Shiite was healed, and the miracle was attributed to St. Charbel.

That occurrence, Father Matar said, has true meaning to any person seeking faith or a deeper relationship with God. Devotion to Charbel is not merely superstition, he said, but a means of connecting with God through Charbel’s intercession. “People are different. Even those who come for a miracle—but what is a miracle? Something you can see to move you on the right path,” Father Matar said.

A child is brought to the shrine of St. Charbel.(photo by Jennifer Scroggins)
Of course, in a country like Lebanon, Charbel’s spiritual and religious importance easily could be applied in the social and political realms.

As with Elias, Charbel is a rallying point for beliefs and practices universal among various creeds.

“We should live in a society where we all believe in Commandments that are common to everyone,” Father Matar said. “That could unite all of us.”

And wouldn’t that be a glorious miracle?


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Trust always and a great deal in divine providence; never, never must you let yourselves be discouraged, despite contrary winds. I say it again: trust in God and Mary Immaculate; be faithful and forge ahead! <br />-Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus


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