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Who is St Charbel?

The Church should follow St Charbel’s example and fix its eyes on the Blessed Sacrament

By on Monday, 22 July 2013

A priest preaches in a northern Lebanese village with a painting of the beloved Saint Charbel in the background Photo: CNS

A priest preaches in a northern Lebanese village with a painting of the beloved Saint Charbel in the background Photo: CNS

Who is St Apollinaris? According to the Ordo – the special little book which tells you which feast to celebrate – his optional memorial is July 20. Naturally, I celebrated his memorial, as I celebrate all memorials, optional or not, as a matter of course. As it happens I have been to the saint’s basilica which is outside Ravenna, and called Sant’ Apollinare in Classe. Once this church stood at the sea’s edge, where the Roman imperial fleet (classis) lay at anchor. Now the sea has receded, and all that is left of its maritime character is the name. There is also a basilica dedicated to the saint in Ravenna itself. Both are famous for their mosaics.

Ravenna, as most readers will know, is home to the world’s most wonderful mosaics – better than Rome, better than Constantinople – a relic of the relatively brief time when this now small town was the capital of the Western Empire. The Empire was then in its decadence, but clearly it was flourishing artistically. Ravenna, especially on a freezing cold day when snow lies on the ground, which was how I saw it, is immensely worth visiting.

To answer the question posed above, St Apollinaris, first Bishop of Ravenna, is a martyr of ancient times who has only recently been restored to the general calendar. Very little is known about him for sure. I am not altogether clear why he was restored to the General Calendar in 2002, but there we are.

On July 24, there occurs the optional memorial of another saint who may be unfamiliar to most, and who has also been placed in the general calendar recently, and that is St Charbel the Miracle-Worker. To most, not all. Every Lebanese will be familiar with this saint of the nineteenth century, a Maronite monk and hermit, who was famous for his devotion to contemplative prayer, and whose image is found on virtually ever street corner in the Christian parts of Lebanon. In fact a large picture of St Charbel or his statue usually announces the confessional allegiance of the quarter you happen to be entering. Just as the Maronites revere St Charbel, so the Shia revere the late Ayatollah Khomenei, and decorate their quarters with his picture, or at least they did when I was last in Lebanon about fifteen years ago. The only other place I have been to where confessional allegiance is so clearly marked is, of course, Northern Ireland.

But there is another place where St Charbel is equally revered, and that is Mexico. Embedded in its vast population is a small community of Lebanese Maronite immigrants, the most famous of whom is Carlos Slim, Mexico’s richest man. The Maronite incomers brought with them their devotion to St Charbel, and this is why virtually every Mexican church has a picture or a statue of the saint, which is the focus of much devotion. This is remarkable considering St Charbel was canonised as recently as 1965.

St Charbel deserves attention, not simply because of his reputation as a miracle worker, but because he is a fine example of prayer. In his picture his eyes are always cast down, and for the last decades of his life he practised strict custody of the eyes, only raising them to look at the Tabernacle and the Eucharist. The Church too, like Charbel, needs to keep its eyes fixed on what really matters: the Divine, and more specifically, the Blessed Sacrament.

  • Benedict Carter

    I am currently trying to support as best I can a close Russian friend who has terminal cancer. I have told her that when things are looking really hopeless (there is a final radiation course and maybe an operation in the USA to come first) we will go to Beirut and find our way from there to the monastery where St. Charbel’s body lies incorrupt, still giving off a fragrant oil and still curing the sick.

    “Charbel” is pronounced “Charvel” so my Lebanese Maronite friends tell me.

    Of your charity, please pray for a Russian lady called Tatiana who is facing an early death at age 35. She has a two-year old child and her German husband lies in a brain-damaged coma following a heart attack.

    St. Charbel, please intercede for Tatiana and may God’s Will be done in her life, including, if it is His Will, her physical cure.

  • E

    Benedict, your friend is in my prayers…

  • Benedict Carter

    Many thanks.

  • Marie Dean

    Charbel is popular in the States. His icons is seen in many places and in homes which love the Blessed Sacrament

  • $28180339

    I certainly will pray for your friend. BTW, If you can’t make Lebanon, pray to Saint Padre Pio for help. God is still working miracles through him. (Or Birmingham for a shorter trip to visit Blessed John Henry Newman’s grave for that 2nd miracle he needs for official saint recognition.)

  • Aaron L.

    We have villages named after St Charbel :D How beautiful to know of the history of the name and great deeds attributed to it.

  • Benjamin Vallejo Jr

    St Charbel is known in the Philippines since his descendants migrated to northern Philippines in the early 20th century and their descendants are prominent citizens there. With the local Catholic archdiocese and even by the Protestant community, St Charbel’s life is held as an example of holiness.

  • guest

    What a wonderful article! Thank you, Father! I do so enjoy everything you write.

  • James Moriarty

    Yes of course Ben.

  • Christelle

    How lucky you are to know our miracle worker! A Lebanese soul that never ever loses hope with the strength given by what least could be said this great great Saint!

  • haveittodayray

    Here in Las Vegas, a few weeks ago at St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church, after a mass was said by two hispanic priests from Mexico, a statute of St. Sharbel, started to “bleed oil”. Not a hoax, but real. I myself visited the statute and saw the oil pouring out from the head, down the chest and arms. The statute is currently protected by the Knights of Columbus 24/7 at St. Sharbel. If you plan to visit Vegas, make sure you visit this church and see for yourself and form your own opinion. St. Sharbel has over 300 miracles attributed to him since his death on Christmas eve. Location: 10325 Rancho Destino Road, Las Vegas, Nevada.

  • CharbelGhsoub

    Saint Charbel, is inspirational to Lebanese and many people around the World.
    I’m from Lebanon, & i’m lucky enough to hold his name, he has touched so many lives, whether through miracles, or by merely learning about him & how he lived.
    God bless you all.

  • CharbelGhsoub

    Actually Benedict, it is pronounced as written, Charbel.

    We will surely be praying for your friend to get better.

    God bless her.