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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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Sharbel Makhluf: Although this saint never traveled far from the Lebanese village of Beka-Kafra, where he was born, his influence has spread widely. 
<p>Joseph Zaroun Makluf was raised by an uncle because his father, a mule driver, died when Joseph was only three. At the age of 23, Joseph joined the Monastery of St. Maron at Annaya, Lebanon, and took the name Sharbel in honor of a second-century martyr. He professed his final vows in 1853 and was ordained six years later. </p><p>Following the example of the fifth-century St. Maron, Sharbel 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 followed a strict fast and was very devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. When his superiors occasionally asked him to administer the sacraments to nearby villages, Sharbel did so gladly. </p><p>He died in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. Christians and non-Christians soon made his tomb a place of pilgrimage and of cures. Pope Paul VI beatified him in 1965 and canonized him 12 years later.</p> American Catholic Blog You cannot claim to be ‘for Christ’ and espouse a political cause that implies callous indifference to the needs of millions of human beings and even cooperate in their destruction.


 
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