The Canonization of Saint Rafqa
On June 10, 2001 at 11:30 Beirut time, Pope John Paul II canonized Saint Rafka making her Lebanon's first woman saint.
The Canonization Ceremony
The three-hour canonization ceremony of Rafka and four other blessed at Saint Peter's cathedral was broadcast live by at least four out of the six local TV networks.
More than 10,000 Lebanese believers watched the Pope proclaiming her sainthood, coming from Lebanon and other diaspora countries. Also attended the ceremony a number of officials including First Lady Andree Lahoud representing President Emile Lahoud, former President Amine Gemayel and MPs Sayed Akl, Abbas Hashem and Boutros Harb. Lebanese coming from the US, Canada, Brazil and Europe said they were disappointed due to the fact that not even one of the three Lebanese leaders attended the event. They told reporters they came "from the four corners of the globe" to attend the ceremony while not even one of the three leaders bothered to participate in the ceremony.
The Lebanese who did not have the chance to attend the event in Rome followed the ceremony on their television screens and large crowds rallied at Saint Joseph monastery in Jrepta where the canonization ceremony was retransmitted live on huge screens.
Pope John Paul II appealed for peace in the Middle East on Sunday as he elevated five people to sainthood, including Lebanon’s first woman saint.
A tired-looking John Paul canonized the five amid hymns and the cheers of thousands gathered under the hazy skies at St. Peter’s Square. Images of the new saints, framed by tapestries, adorned the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Among the five was Sister Rafqa, of the Lebanese Maronite Antonine Order. Born Boutroussieh al-Choboq al-Rayess, she took her mother’s name when she became a nun.
“May Saint Rafqa watch after those who know suffering, in particular those people of the Middle East confronted with the destructive and sterile spiral of violence,” the pontiff said, in French. “By her intercession, we ask the Lord to open hearts in the patient search for new paths for peace, hastening the days of reconciliation and harmony.”
Thousands of Lebanese Christians flocked to Sister Rafqa’s tomb at a monastery in Jrabta, northern Lebanon. She died on March 23, 1914, after spending the last two decades of her life blind, crippled and unable to talk.
“We can rightly call today’s solemn occasion a ‘festival of sanctity’,” the Pope declared.
“Sanctity is a gift of God, given via Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is the principle of sainthood,” he said, referring to the dedication of the five candidates.
The first to be canonized was Luigi Scrosoppi (1804-1884), who spent his life committed to providing charity. Agostino Roscelli (1818-1902) founded the congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in the northern Italian city of Genoa and was a pillar of faith in his community. Also canonized were Bernardo da Corleone (1605-1667) and Teresa Eustochio Verzeri (1801-1852), a nun.
As soon as the canonization liturgy ended, local ceremonies started in the towns that witnessed the stages of the saint's life: believers rang bells in the church where Rafka was baptized in her birthplace of Hamlaya. Meanwhile in Ito, in Saint Semaan's monastery where Rafka spent 17 years of her life, and in Saint Joseph monastery in Jrepta, prayers, chants and liturgies were held throughout the day.
Media reports from Jrepta, where Saint Rafka lies, said a photo of the saint started oozing oil as soon as the Pope proclaimed her sainthood and simultaneously, a vision of the Saint appeared underneath the crucifix. Those reports were not confirmed by clergy authorities.
24 hours after the canonization of Saint Rafka, celebrations continued on Monday June 11, with a liturgy headed by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.
In his sermon, the Patriarch stressed the need to learn the lessons from the saintly life of the Saint, asking her to intervene with the Lord so that "Lebanon remains a free and sovereign land that engenders saints."
The liturgy was directly followed by a special audience given by the Pope to Lebanese delegations. In a speech dedicated to Lebanon, Pope John Paul II said he hoped the sufferings in the Middle East would end and its people in pain find comfort in the saint who was so familiar with sufferings.
A large number of officials attended the mass, including Lebanon's ambassador to the Vatican Fouad Aoun, representing President Emile Lahoud, MPs Sayed Akl and Abbas Hashem representing the Parliament, minister of state Pierre Helou representing Premier Rafic Hariri former president Amine Gemayel.
In his sermon, Patriarch Sfeir thanked God for Lebanon's new saint adding that it was God's will that the canonization was achieved at a time when the Middle East is going through a tough crisis.
"We implore Virgin Mary and saint Rafka to safeguard Lebanon, so that it remains a free and sovereign country that engenders saints," Sfeir said.
After the liturgy, the Pope granted special audience to the Lebanese delegations and implored Saint Rafka to come to the rescue of the Middle East. The Pope hoped all those who suffer from the war find comfort in the Saint who was so familiar with pain.
In another development, the Maronite League whose president and members were in Rome to attend the canonization seized the opportunity to convene delegates from Canada, Belgium, France, the US, Mexico, Kuwait, Austria and the World Maronite Union delegation to a meeting to address the situation of the Maronite community in Lebanon.
The participants decided to adopt a common strategy aimed at "supporting Lebanon's freedom and sovereignty and facing mounting pressure on the Maronite community."
A statement issued after the meeting said the participants agreed to set up a joint committee in charge of following up the issue of holding a general Maronite conference.
The Life of Saint Rafqa