In Honor of Saint Marie-Alphonsine and Saint Mariam
The Holy Land is brimming with joy and prayers. Two of her Palestinian daughters, Blessed Marie-Alphonsine Daniel Ghattas and Blessed Mariam Baouardy Haddad, became saints on May 17, 2015. They are the first from the Holy Land since the early years of Christianity. During their canonization, Pope Francis spoke of their example of mercy, charity, and reconciliation that can inspire Christians in the Middle East, a troubled region undergoing waves of religious discrimination and persecution.
Saint Marie-Alphonsine founded the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem. Born in Jerusalem in 1843 under the tough conditions of the Ottoman rule, she died 83 years later, also in Jerusalem, during the British Mandate over Palestine. A servant of God, a promoter of religious teaching and education, she advanced prayer and dedicated herself to Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus, through the rosary.
Saint Mariam or Mary of Jesus Crucified was a mystic, a Discalced Carmelite nun of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. She was born in I’billin in 1846 and died young in Bethlehem in 1878 while Palestine was under Ottoman rule. Orphaned at age 2 and a victim of aggression, her short life was filled with loss, rejection, and pain but she persevered through contemplation and service to others. Experiencing religious ecstasy and receiving the stigmata, she drew closer to Jesus and Mary.
Upon sharing the great tidings of the two saints with others, a question that kept coming up in my conversations is what individual qualities or values are necessary for sainthood. While there is no set laundry list or magical formula and while people do not go to a special preparatory school for sainthood, it is important to realize that those who have become saints usually made a lifetime commitment to God and God’s creation. They did not hang around to receive their reward on earth. Their way of life gave them eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. Sainthood for Marie-Alphonsine and Mariam was not declared till 88 and 137 years, respectively, after their passing.
As people of faith, we have a responsibility towards Saint Marie-Alphonsine and Saint Mariam and the other saints and prophets. We embrace them, we venerate them. In his Pastoral Letter, Along the Path to Holiness, H.B. Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, explains, venerating them means to love them, to respect them, to seek their intercession, and to imitate them.
In reflecting on our responsibility towards God and in venerating saints and prophets, we must ask: How well are our voice and touch in tune with humility, charity, and selfless love, which Jesus practiced and which he addressed in the Beatitudes? Are we serving others to garner benefit in the here and now or are we loving God by caring for His creation?
Saint Marie-Alphonsine and Saint Mariam expressed their love for God through prayer. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (1: 9-15), states: For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.
Saint Marie-Alphonsine and Saint Mariam expressed their love for God by loving others. In John 13:34, Jesus says: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Saint Marie-Alphonsine and Saint Mariam put faith into action by living the Beatitudes, by practicing virtues in life so as to see the face of God in the eyes of those they served and loved. As Jesus promises in Matthew 5: 3-11:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The tough conditions that Marie-Alphonsine and Mariam experienced during their lifetime have been repeating themselves. In Palestine specifically, where the Israeli occupation, other forms of extremism, and power politics are challenging the daily lives and livelihoods of millions, there is a great need to take up crosses so as to dethrone ourselves, educate, be compassionate, and lessen the suffering of others.
The same can be said of the larger Middle East where aggression, wars, and the violent persecution of Christians and other minorities at the hands of Islamic extremists have been taking place. Enough is enough. While violators of human life and dignity must be held accountable, better ways must be found to resolve disagreements and conflicts.
If moderation, reconciliation, and peace do not occur in the lands called holy, where will they happen?
We are blessed by Saint Marie-Alphonsine and Saint Mariam’s life stories and positive impact on humanity. They let their lives speak and we hear them. We seek their continued intervention for human understanding and peaceful coexistence.
Blessed are those who inspire and engage in service, hope, selfless love, and peace, for theirs is eternal life.
Saliba Sarsar is Secretary of the HCEF Board of Directors