Blessed Mother Marie-Alphonsine Daniel Ghattas: her life and her miracles
JERUSALEM – May 2015. The Church is getting ready to celebrate in the coming days the canonization of Mother Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas and Sister Marie of Jesus Crucified (Mariam Bawardi). The Church acknowledges thereby the genuineness of their spiritual experiences, introducing them as examples and intercessors for faithful. How does Church recognize the sainthood of her faithful? There are here two “proofs’ of the sainthood of these two nuns: first their life itself (a virtuous Christian life) and then the blessings which God granted to living faithful, through the intercession of these two daughters of the Holy Land, after their death. These special blessings are called ‘miracles” and are cases of sudden healing, unexplained scientifically. Comeback on the life and miracles of Mother Marie-Alphonsine – a further article will be devoted to Mariam of Jesus Crucified.
First proof of the sainthood of Mother Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas: her humbleness and her attachment to an Evangelical life
It is the first step in the process of canonization. The Church proceeds to an investigation in the life of the candidate, in order to discover whether he/she has lived the virtues and commandments of the Lord, as read in the Gospel, in a heroic manner. His/her life is examined, and the testimonials of those who have known him/her are reviewed.
Mother Marie-Alphonsine was born in Jerusalem on 4 October 1843 to a very devoted Christian family. Her father was called Daniel and her mother, Catherine. Family Ghattas are Bethlehem-born, but some of its members left Bethlehem and lived in different towns of Palestine: Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahur, and Jerusalem. Dates of their dispersal are unknown.
It was in Jerusalem that Marie-Alphonsine lived with her family. Her mother attended Mass every day. Her father enjoyed hosting at home neighbors and friends every evening, in order to recite the decade before a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was the tradition in many Christian families in Jerusalem.
At her birth Marie Alphonsine received the name “Sultana” (“Queen” in Arabic), a forename linked in many ways to Queen Virgin. Then, her parents preferred to add the name of Mary at her baptism.
After many years of stiff opposition from her father, Sultana – 17 years old then – received in the evening of 30 June 1860 the habit of the Sisters of St Joseph of Apparition on Mount Golgotha in Jerusalem. She got on that day her name in religion: Marie-Alphonsine, which she kept until the end of her lifetime.
Sr Marie-Alphonsine was keen about the mission, for apostolic action, keeping at the same time a calm, devoted, pensive and serious personality. She was characterized by an astounding humbleness, avoiding exposure on all occasions, preferring to act in silence in order to please primarily God but not humans.
In Bethlehem, she started to receive apparitions from the Holy Virgin, who sent forth important messages regarding the foundation of a local congregation that will carry the name of Sisters of Rosary, restricted to Arab girls. These apparitions lasted for four years. It was during those apparitions that the Holy Virgin referred the seer to a Latin Patriarchate priest, Fr Yussef Tannous, who will become her spiritual father and then the visible founder of the congregation, as the humble servant of God preferred to remain in the shade.
After many complications, hardships and sufferings, Sr Marie Alphonsine got permission from the Holy See to leave the congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Apparition and join a new one in 1880. She received the habit of Our Lady of the Rosary in 1883.
The Saint took care of concealing the mystery of apparitions she had received. Nobody knew about them except for her spiritual father. She opted for silence during her lifetime. She preferred living a life of abnegation, and the secret remained hidden for 53 years. It was thanks to the wisdom of thE spiritual father, Fr Tannous, who had requested her to put down in writing what she had seen and heard during her visions, through which the Sisters, after the death of Sr Marie Alphonsine, were able to discover the reality about the foundation of the Congregation.
On the one hand, the orders which the Holy Virgin gave during the vision to a simple Palestinian nun were solid and not negotiable. But on the other hand it was difficult for the sister to turn her back to the Congregation of St Joseph which she had loved and served with all her heart. However, her fidelity to the Virgin was greater than all challenges and fears. Nothing could separate her from Love: neither death, nor the possibility of being accused of treason. “Love is greater than death”. She took a decision: “I decided through love to Mary, and in her veneration, to obey her voice and to sacrifice my life in the Congregation of the Rosary, putting my trust in the help which my Mother will bestow on me, believing that she will walk always walk along with me and will support me”.
As a Rosary nun, Sr Marie-Alphonsine served in several “missions” (that’s how parishes of the Latin patriarchate in phase of foundation were known in those times): Jaffa of Nazareth (where she saved miraculously and by means of her rosary a young girl who fell in a well that is still visible in this parish up till these days); Beit Sahur, Salt, Nablus, Jerusalem, Zababdeh, Bethlehem and Ain Karem where her life was ended in 1927.
Few days before her death, as she felt the impending encounter with the Most-Beloved and with her Holy Mother, she seized the opportunity of a private meeting with her sister in blood and religious life, Mother Anne, to confide to her: “After my death, go there to where I tell you, you will find two booklets handwritten by me. Take them and hand them over to Patriarch Barlassina”. Mother Anne found the two booklets which include an account about the apparitions, sealed with red wax. She took them away and presented them to Mgr Marcus, asking him to tell the Patriarch. She fulfilled thereby the will of her dead sister.
As he did not master the Arabic language, the Patriarch asked Sister Augustine to translate to him these pages, then ordained Mother Superior General to bring back the original two manuscripts. It was then that the full reality behind the foundation of the congregation was revealed to the sisters, struck with astonishment as to the heroic humbleness of their unknown founder.
Second proof of the sainthood of Mother Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas: two miracles took place after her death.
In the Catholic Church the concerned authorities pose as a condition that each candidate for beatification and later for canonization performs two miracles after death.
Through the intercession of Mother Marie-Alphonsine, two miracles took place, one for beatitification and the other for canonization.
- The miracle prior to her beatification in 2009
The story started when two nuns had visited the family of Nathalie Zananiri, a student at their school in Beit Hanina (a northern suburb of Jerusalem,) to recite the rosary together. That was during the month of Mary in 2003. After the prayer, the nuns offered the family a book on the life of their founder, the servant of God, Mother Marie-Alphonsine.
Nathalie’s mother read the book during four successive days, and she felt in her inside something astonishing, especially on reading about the miracles which took place during the life time of Mother Marie-Alphonsine, and the apparitions of the Holy Virgin.
In the same week, exactly on 30 May 2003, Nathalie’s mother was at home, working and thinking of what she has read, when suddenly she felt in her inside a strange fear, like an impending disaster. She was often outdoors until late evening, for she worked in journalism. She implored the Holy Virgin to protect her children, during her absence especially, and asked to do to her what she has done in the past to Mother Marie-Alphonsine.
One afternoon, after a long hesitation, Mrs Zananiri decided to go to her job. While busy at work she received a call from her husband who asked her if their daughter, Nathalie, was vaccinated against tetanus. The daughter was wounded; for the husband, the wound was not that bad. The mother very worried called back half an hour later, and her son answered. “Where is your father?” she asked. The son answered: “he went to clean the house because this is what happened”.
On that day the neighbors celebrated the anniversary of their daughter in the garden. Nathalie was with the group. After singing, Nathalie said: “I feel the earth is moving under our feet”. They all made fun of her and started jumping over the earth. Suddenly the earth opened out under their feet revealing a pothole 4 m deep, 4 m wide, 5 m long. Eleven girls fell inside the pothole, almost filled with sewage water. Her daughter was one of the last two to be rescued after having passed 5 to 7 minutes under sewage waer! “I firmly believe that what happened was a miracle”, said the mother coming back home, after having seen the place of the incident and the pothole. She related to her family what she had asked the Virgin Mary in the morning through the intercession of Mother Marie-Alphonsine. She was doing the link between this miracle and the one which the Saint had performed during her lifetime in Jaffa of Nazareth, rescuing a young girl fallen into a well. Didn’t she pray the Virgin to do to her what she had done in the past to Sr Marie-Alphonsine?!
- The miracle prior to her canonization in 2015
The second miracle took place in Kufr Cana, two days before the celebration of the beatification of Mother Marie-Alphonsine in Nazareth in 2009. The miracle occurred this time to someone called Emile Elias, a Christian Arab from Galilea, born on 27 May 1977. Mr Elias is an engineer, who worked in drawing road maps. One day he wanted to remove something which he used on a site and which, unknowingly, was connected to electric power. He was hit by a power of 30 to 40 thousand volts. The shock was of course very violent and mortal, and Emile fell on the ground, motionless. According to doctor’s report, he had a heart arrest when reaching the hospital and his body was almost entirely dark blue, in sign of death. He remained in sort of coma for a couple of days.
Elias knew nothing about the life of Marie-Alphonsine, but he learnt on waking up two days later that many friends had prayed for him asking for the intercession of the one who was just beatitifed! He escaped death for sure, realizing how much of a miracle his healing was, for he was in desperate situation.
Mother Marie-Alphonsine, pray for us !