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March 23

St Rafqa - March 23

Saint Rafqa  

Nun
“Little Flower of Lebanon”

(1832 – 1914)

“O my God, why are you distant from me and have abandoned me? You don’t visit me with sickness. Have you perhaps abandoned me?”

Saint Rafqa

Saint’s Life Story

Her Early Life  

Rafqa was born in Himlaya, one of the villages of Northern Metn district in Lebanon on June 29, 1832.  She was the only child of Mourad Saber el-Choboq el Rayess and Rafqa Gemayel.  On July 7, 1832, she was baptized and named Boutroussieh (the Arabic feminine of Peter). Her parents taught her the love of God and the practice of daily prayer. At age seven, Boutroussieh suffered her first great loss with the death of her mother.

In 1843, her father experienced financial difficulties. So, he sent Boutroussieh to work as a servant for four years in Damascus at the home of Assaad Al-Badawi. So from age 11 to 15, Boutroussieh worked as maid. At age 14,  she announced that she felt a call to religious life. According to the Al-Badawi family, she was a “model of purity”.  Boutroussieh was devoted to the Most Holy Virgin. She prayed morning and night having learnt the devotion from her sweet maternal mother. 

In 1847, Boutroussieh returned home to find that her father had remarried. His new wife wanted Rafqa to marry her brother. So, she and her step-mother never got along.

Became a Nun taking the name Anissa 

Her father objected. But, at 21, Boutroussieh became a nun in the Marian Order of the Immaculate Conception at Bikfaya, Lebanon, She took the religious name Anissa (or Agnes). Following a year of postulancy, Rafqa received the habit of her congregation on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1861. A year later, she pronounced her first vows.

Rafqa in the Congregation of the Mariamettes (1859-1871)

Along with sister Mary Gemayel, Rafqa was assigned to work in the Jesuit-run seminary in Ghazir.  Rafqa was in charge of kitchen service. In her free time she studied Arabic, calligraphy and mathematics and also helped to educate girls aspiring to join her congregation.

In 1860, Rafqa was sent to Deir el-Kamar to teach catechism. There, she witnessed the bloody clashes that occurred in Lebanon during this period. On one occasion, she risked her own life by hiding a child under her robe and saving him from death.

After a year in Deir el-Kamar, Rafqa returned to Ghazir. In 1862, she was sent to teach in a school of her order in Byblos. One year later, she was transferred to Ma’ ad village. There, with another nun, Rafqa spent seven years establishing a new school for girls, made possible through the generosity of Antoun Issa.

Rafqa in the Lebanese Maronite Order (1871-1914)

While living in Maad, and following a crisis in her congregation, Rafqa sought divine guidance. Entering at St. George’s Church, she prayed for help. Once again, she heard the Lord’s voice confirming her call to religious life. Soon after, she dreamt that Saint George, Saint Simon and Saint Anthony the Great, the father of monasticism, were telling her to enter the Lebanese Maronite Order.

Her trip from Maad to the Maronite Monastery of St. Simon el-Qarn in Aito was facilitated by the generosity of Mr. Antoun Issa.  Immediately, Rafqa was admitted to the Order, receiving the habit on July 12, 1871. She pronounced her vows on August 25, 1872 and took the name, Rafqa, after her mother.

For the next 26 years, Rafqa lived in the monastery of St. Simon. In her observation of the rule, her devotion to prayer and silence, in her life of sacrifice and austerity, she was a role model to the other nuns.

Eye Pain and Intense Suffering

On the first Sunday of October 1885, Rafqa entered the monastery church and began to pray, asking Jesus to permit her to experience some of the suffering He endured during His passion. Her prayer was immediately answered. Unbearable pains began in her head and moved to her eyes.

Her superior insisted that Rafqa undergo medical treatment. After all local attempts to cure her had failed, Rafqa was sent to Beirut for treatment. Passing by St. John-Mark’s Church in Byblos, her companions learned that an American doctor was traveling in the area. Contacted, he agreed to perform surgery on the afflicted eye. Rafqa refused anesthesia. In the course of the surgery, her eye became completely detached. Within a short time, the disease struck the left eye.

For the next 12 years, Rafqa continued to experience intense pain in her head. Throughout this period, as before, she remained patient and uncomplaining, praying in thanksgiving for the gift of sharing in Jesus’ suffering.

Rafqa in St. Joseph Monastery al Dahr in Jrabta (1897-1914)

In 1897, when the Lebanese Maronite Order decided to build the monastery of St. Joseph al Dahr in Jrabta, Batroun, six nuns, led by Mother Ursula Doumit, were sent to the new monastery. Rafqa was among them.

In 1899, she lost the sight in her left eye. With this a new stage of her suffering began, intensified by the dislocation of her clavicle and her right hip and leg. Her vertebrae were visible through her skin.

Her face was spared and remained shining to the end. Her hands stayed intact. Rafqa used them to knit socks and make clothing. She thanked God for the use of her hands while also thanking Him for permitting her a share in His Son’s suffering.

St Rafqa Coffin - March 23
Saint Rafqa’s Coffin

Her Death

Preparing for death, Raftqa called upon the Mother of God and Saint Joseph. Finally, on March 23, 1914 in Grabta, Lebanon, after a life of prayer and service, and years of unbearable pain, Rafqa rested in peace. She was buried in the monastery cemetery.

Born :                  June 29, 1832 in Himlaya, Lebanon

Died:                   March 23, 1914 in Grabta, Lebanon

Beatified:           November 17, 1985 by Pope John Paul II

Canonized:        June 10, 2001 by Pope John Paul II

Feast Day:          March 23

Patron Saint:     Against Bodily Ills; Against Sickness; Loss of Parents; Sick People

Source:

Reflection

One aspect that stands out in the life of Saint Rafqa is her resilience and strength in the face of adversity. Despite her physical limitations, she continued to radiate the love and peace of Christ to those around her. Her life exemplifies the transformative power of faith, demonstrating that even in the midst of immense challenges, God’s grace can work wonders in and through us.

Do you know of a friend, family member, or even yourself that is facing physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges? Offer up these sufferings and trust in God’s loving presence even in the most difficult circumstances. May Saint Rafqa’s example guide you and inspire you to live a life of unwavering faith, hope, and love.

Prayers

Saint Rafqa, you who experienced the depths of physical pain, help those who are suffering from illness or infirmity, console the brokenhearted and those burdened by life’s challenges, and grant them the strength to persevere with faith and hope.

Guide us with your example of humility and selflessness, teach us to embrace God’s will in all circumstances, inspire us to love and serve others as you did, and lead us closer to our Heavenly Father.

Saint Rafqa, pray for us and for all those in need, that through your intercession, we may find comfort, healing, and spiritual renewal. May we, like you, shine as beacons of Christ’s love in the world, and one day join you in the eternal joy of Heaven.

Saint Rafqa, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

Catholic Online – St. Rafqa

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints of the Day – Blessed Rafqa Shabaq al-Rayes by Katherine I Rabenstein

Rafca – Life of Saint Rafca, The Blind mystic of Lebanon

Saint Charbouf Australia – Saint Rafqa

Saints, Feast, Family – The Story of Saint Rafqa

Saint Resources – Mar 23 – Rafqa Pietra Chobog Ar-Rayes

The Eparchy of St Maron Canada – Saint Rafqa

Video Link

Saint Rafqa – YouTube (Saint Rafqa)