Among the four women religious canonized by Pope Francis on May 17, we wish to highlight St. Marie Alfonsine Danil Ghattas (1843-1927) born in Jerusalem, and St. Mary of Jesus Crucified Baourdy (1846-1878) born in Ibellin (Nazareth). These two new Arab saints exemplify the shining light of holiness of the 19th Century Christian community in the Holy Land. [English biographies of all four saints found on pages 10, 16, 20, and 26 of the PDF of the ceremony from the Vatican website.]
Interestingly, both of these new saints first experienced religious life in the missionary Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, founded by St. Emilie de Vialar (1797- 1856). At the time of the death of this French foundress, the congregation had missions in Algeria, Tunisia, France, Italy, Cyprus, Malta, Syria, Greece, Burma, Palestine, Turkey, Crete and Australia, counting forty two foundations in all, many based in the Middle East. (NB: The “apparition” related to St. Joseph is that of the angel who appeared to him in a dream to explain the mission entrusted to him as guardian of the Incarnation (Matt. 1:18-23).)
St. Marie Alfonsine was a Sister of St Joseph of the Apparition from 1858 to 1880 before founding a new order the “Institute of the Sisters of the Holy Rosary” following the instructions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a vision in 1875. (She had first received a vision of the Blessed Mother in Bethlehem on January 6, 1874.) Examples of contemporary work of her thriving congregation include the Rosary College School in Amman, Jordan, and the school in Gaza.
Overlapping in the same years but not ever living in the same convents, St. Mary of Jesus Crucified was only a postulant and novice of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition from 1865 to 1867 in the south of France before entering the Carmelites in Pau. After life in various Carmelite Monasteries, she had revealed to her superiors in 1872 that the Lord wished for a Carmel to be built in Bethlehem. St. Mary of Jesus Crucified (nicknamed affectionately as the “Little Arab”) eventually returned to the Holy Land in 1875 to oversee the design and construction of the Carmel in Bethlehem.
Extraordinary favors and signs were known to be part of the life of St Mary of Jesus Crucified, including ecstasies, visions and even the Stigmata (March 29, 1867). She had already miraculously survived an attempt on her life at age 12 when her throat was cut by a servant of her uncle for defending her Christian faith saying: “I am a daughter of the Roman, Catholic Apostolic Church.” The Carmelites of the Holy Land offer an excellent resource about her life, about her spiritual message, and invite all to pray with her.
May these two new Arab saints be great intercessors for the entire Church, and especially be close to those Christians in the Middle East who are suffering for their faith in our times.
St. Maria Alfonsina, pray for us!
St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, pray for us!