Blessed Marie of Jesus Crucified (Mariam Bawardi) : her life and her miracles
JERUSALEM – May 2015. Church is getting ready to celebrate soon the canonization of Mother Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas and of Sr Marie of Jesus Crucified (Mariam Bawardi). The Church acknowledges thereby the genuineness of their spiritual experience while presenting them as examples and intercessors for the faithful. How does the Church recognize the sainthood of her faithful ? There are two “proofs’ of the sainthood of these two nuns : first their life itself (a virtuous Christian life) and then the special blessings which the Lord granted to living faithful, through the intercession of these two daughters of the Holy Land, after their death. These special blessings are called “miracles” by the Church, and are cases of sudden cure, unexplained scientifically. A comeback on the life and miracles of Mariam of Jesus Crucified. A previous article was devoted to Marie Alphonsine Ghattas.
First proof of the sainthood of Sr Marie of Jesus Crucified : her humility and her attachment to Evangelical life
In a previous article we spoke about the process of canonization. The Church starts investigating in the candidate’s life in order to check whether he/she has lived in a heroic manner the virtues and commandments of the Lord in the Gospel. Her life was put under study, testimonials of those who had known her were gathered. After having acknowledged the work of God in the life of Mother Marie Alphonsine, we stand to admire His work in the life of Sr Marie of Jesus Crucified, who considered herself “a tiny nothing” !
Galilea – childhood
Mariam Bawardy was born on 5 January 1846 in Ibillin, a small village of Galilea half way between Nazareth and Haifa. Her parents, strong believers, carried a deep-rooted experience : they were unable to have a child who could survive ; one after the other, twelve boys died very young. In their deep anguish and trust in God, they decided to go on pilgrimage on foot to Bethlehem to pray at the Manger and ask the Holy Virgin the grace of a daughter. Mariam was born nine months later. She is baptized and confirmed according to Greek Catholic tradition of her family. In the following year, a younger brother Boulos was an addition to the family’s delight.
But Mariam was not 3 years old when her father died, few days later, her mother, overcome by sorrow. Feeling his death getting closer, her father carried Mariam in his arms, imploring St Joseph to be henceforth her father and to watch over her. Her prayer was granted more than once. Boulos was adopted by a maternal aunt, living in an adjacent village, and Mariam by a paternal, well-established uncle. Few years later, the latter settled in Alexandria taking Mariam along with him.
Of her years of childhood in Galilea, there remains for Mariam the fascination of the beauty of the Creation, the light, the landscapes where everything talks about God (this fascination will become yet more obvious later through hymns coming forth from her heart at times of ecstasy) and the strong feeling that everything fades away. A small incident marked her deeply : two small birds died in her hands while attempting to wash them ; she must bury them, sadly, when she heard in her inside these memorable words : “Behold, everything fades away ; but if you want to give me your heart, I shall remain with you for always’
Alexander : the martyr
1858 : Mariam was 12 years old. She lived in Alexandria for some years when she heard that her uncle wanted to marry her. She was determined to give herself entirely unto the Lord and so she refused. Menaces, humiliations and bad treatment did not affect her decision. Within three months, she found another servant in the house to try to bring forward a letter to her brother who remained in Galilea. When hearing about her long sufferings, the servant who was Moslem urged her to leave Christianity and embrace his religion. Mariam declined. In fury, the man drew up a knife and cut her throat, leaving her body in a dark alley. That occurred on 8 September 1858.
At that time the supernatural got into her life. Later she said that she was indeed lifeless at that moment, and it seemed for her to be entering into Paradise, seeing the Holy Virgin, the saints, her parents, the glorious Trinity … But her time had not come yet, she woke up inside a grotto, next to a young woman who looked like a nun wearing blue. During four weeks , the latter took care of her, of her feeding, of her education. When she felt cured, presented later as the Virgin Mary hersef, the nun brought her to a church and left her there.
As from that day, she travelled from town to town (Alexandria, Jerusalem, Beirut, Marseille) as a servant, opting for poor families, helping them, and leaving them when feeling too much honoured. She became witness of this “invisible universe”, which we believe in without seeing and which she had experienced throughout her life.
Marseille : Sisters of St Joseph
In Marseille, Mariam got in contact with the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition. She was 19 years old but looked 12 or 13. She spoke poor French, not looking that healthy and strong after all what she had lived. She was welcomed as a candidate, and her joy was so great to be able to give herself to God. She was always ready for tiring jobs, spending most of her time in laundry or at the kitchen. But every week she lived the Passion of the Lord, received stigmatas (which – simple as she was – took them for a disease); all kinds of extraordinary graces started showing up. Some of the sisters were aback, and after two years of noviciate, Mariam was not admitted into the Congregation.
It happened that a Sister of St Joseph, Mother Veronique, had asked to enter into the Carmel, but had to wait a little at the convent in Marseille. In the meanwhile, she took over the duties of the ailing intendent of candidates, and got acquainted to Mariam whom she understood and appreciated, proposing to take her along to the Carmel.
Pau : the Carmel
Mariam was warmly received in June 1867, where she found love and understanding in the midst of her future experiences. She took the mantle in the following month, receiving the name of Sr Marie of Jesus Crucified. She insisted on being be a converse sister, feeling more at ease in the service of others, finding difficulty in reciting the Holy Mass, as she was unable to read. Her simplicity, her generosity invaded hearts around her. This word, coming in ecstasy, illustrated her behavior : “Where charity lies, God is there also. If you think of doing good to your brother, God will think of you. If you dig a pithole for your brother, you will fall into it ; it will be for you. But if you set out heaven for your brother, it will be yours”. She was not perfect, blamed sometimes for her crude manners. A gift of prophecy, attacks of the devil or ecstasies .. among all the divine graces with which she was surrounded,added to the feeling of being nothing with regard to God, and when she talked about herself calling herself a “small nothing”, that was the deep expression of her being. That what made her grasp the depth of the divine mercy where she found her joy, her life. “ Humility is happy being nothing, gets attached to nothing, never tires of anything. She felt happy, everywhere happy, satisfied with everything around … Blessed are the small !” There lies the source of her self-giving to the core of most weird blessings and of the most bewildering human events.
In India : foundation of the Carmel of Mangalore
At the end of 3 years spent at the Carmel of Pau, in 1870, Mariam was sent with a small group to set up a first Carmelite Monastery in India, in Mangalore. The trip by ship in those times was a risky adventure, thee sister died before arriving to destination. Nevertheless, cloistered life was started at the end of the year ; in the following spring several sisters came from France as backup. The extraordinary experience of Marian went on, without preventing her from confronting the most strenuous assignments and hurdles linked to the new foundation of which she was the animator. In her ecstasies, at times she was seen with a glimmering face in the kitchen or elsewhere ; at times she participated in spirit in what was running in the Church ; at times she was overtaken by the devil, making her live horrendous torture. She pronounced her vows at the end of her noviciate on 21 November 1871, but misunderstanding started appearing around her, putting in doubt the genuineness of what she had seen ; tensions raised around led to her sending away to Carmel of Pau in 1872.
Return to Pau
Over there, Mariam Found back her simple life of converse in the midst of affection of her sister, and her spirit grew stronger. At certain moments of ecstasy, though she was illiterate, she improvised in the momentum of her love to God very beautiful poems, full of freshness and Eastern charm, where the whole Creation would sing to the Creator ; or else in the twinkling of an eye, she was attracted to the top of a tree, to a branch unable to carry a bird, by the strength of her spirit to God …She was thus witness of this transfigured Universe, described by Prophet Isaiah (“the wolf shall dwell with the lamb” or by the author of the Apocalypse (“the woman has the sun for a mantle, the moon beneath her feet and a crown of twelve stars …”)
“ Everybody sleeps. And God, so watchful, so magnanimous, so worthy of praise, is forgotten ! Nobody thinks of him ! Behold, Nature praises him ; heaven, stars, trees, grasses – everything praises him, while Man, who acknowledges his benevolence, who should praise him, sleeps ! Let us wake up the Univers!” .
Many are those who came seeking her comfort, counsels, prayers, leaving her enlightened, strengthened by the meeting.
Short time after her return to Mangalore, she started talking about the foundation of a Carmel in Bethlehem. Obstacles are huge, but fade away progressively, against every attempt. A benefactor, Berthe Dartigaux, will be devoted to her. Her confessor, Fr Estrate, of the Congregation of Betharram, encourages her and supports her until the end.
Bethlehem, Nazareth, Emmaus and her entry into Heaven
At long last consent was given by Rome to found a Carmel in Bethlehem. On 20 August 1875 a tiny group of Carmelites heads for the Holy Land. The Lord himself guide Mariam’s steps towards the site and the construction. As she was the only Arabic-speaking, she was in charge of supervising the works : ”immersed in sand and in lime”. She soon earnedthe sympathy of laborers ; the community could come and live in the monastery as of 21 November 1876, as the works were still in progress.
Mariam took upon herself the foundation of a Carmel in Nazareth ; she went there to buy land in August 1878. During this trip, Emmaus was revealed to her, bought up by Berthe Dartigaux for the Carmel.
Back in Bethlehem, she assumed the supervision of works under a scorching sun. While bringing water to laborers, she fell while walking up the stairs and her arm was fractured. Affected by gangrene, Mariam faded away within few days, on 26 August 1878, at the age of 32. She was beatified on 13 November 1983 by St John Paul II.
Second proof of the sainthood of Sr Marie of Jesus Crucified : two miracles took place after her death
In the Catholic Church, the concerned authorities decided as a condition that any candidate for beatification, later for canonization, would perform two miracles after his/her death.
Through the intercession of Sr Marie of Jesus Crucified, two miracles occurred, one earned her the beatification, the other the canonization.
- The miracle prior to her beatification in 1983
On 13 November 1983, Pope John Paul II beatified in Rome Sr Marie of Jesus Crucified. The miracle chosen for the beatification was that of 1929 in Shefamar in Galilea (Palestinian village at some kms from Ibillin). A Greek Catholic family of Jubran Aboud and Dableh Saliba had 7 children ; the 5th – Khasneh was born in 1926, poorly fed, did not grow up, remaining weak and fragile. Until the age of 3 ½ years – meaning until the cure – the child was never able to walk and could not hold up for one moment. Because of their destitute living conditions, the parents were unable to provide medical treatment to the child.
On Easter 1929 the child’s aunt, Mariam Saliba, went to Carmel of Bethlehem to pray next to the burial site of Sr Marie of Jesus Crucified, where from she brought relics and an image of the Carmelite Saint. The picture was hung on the wall of the only room they had and the family started to address Mariam for the sake of the sick, with yet more trust that she was born herself in the neighbouring village of Ibillin.
Since Easter 1929 until her cure on 20 December 1929, during 8 months nearly, the child’s parents passed so many times past the picture, even several times a day, saying : “O Saint of Ibillin, heal our child”.
The child’s aunt, Mariam Saliba, having earned the grace of a vision improvement, started as of Friday 13 December 1929 an octave of prayers to the Servant of God asking for the healing of her niece. The octave consisted of attending and taking holy communion at daily mass , do the daily way of the cross, and some sacrifices. On the 8th day of the octave, before noon, while the child was sleeping in a corner of the room, paralyzed, legs and thighs entirely atrophied, she stood up all of sudden, without hesitation saying very joyfully to the grand mother : “Grand ma, look here, my feet are walking !” Since the moment of the healing, the child kept running and took fun the whole day with the other children. The parents were filled with a feeling of bewilderment and gratitude to God.
2. The miracle prior to her canonization in 2015
The miracle, which opened the way towards canonization of the Carmelite Blessed of Bethlehem Mariam of Jesus Crucified (1846-1878), was the healing of a new baby born of Augusta, in Sicily, in Syracuse, the small Emanuele Lo Zito.
Her parents, Biagia and Luigi Lo Zito, saw their prayers fulfilled when Biagia fell off during her pregnancy. At her 8th month of pregnancy, Biagia saw something abnormal. Despite the reassuring words of her doctor, she went to see a specialist : the child did not grow bigger over the last weeks. As a matter of fact the baby was in bad shape, the umbilical cord round the neck. A caesarian cut was an emergency.
Emmanuel was born on 17 April 2009, at noon time. The small premature baby weight 2.6 kgs. The first danger was thus overcome. In the afternoon, he was brought to his mother to feed him. Biagia noticed that her baby had dark blue feet and hands, and that he cried very weak. The alarm sign went higher, but the causes remained vague. The grand mother insisted, and the child was finally transferred to Catana Hospital, on 18 April, in a critical condition. A first diagnosis revealed lung hypertension. He should be brought to Garibaldi Hospital. On 20 April, another more serious diagnosis was brought to the knowledge of the father : the baby had a heart problem. It was decided to rush the baby to a fourth hospital : Hospital St Vincent of Taormina. They doctors lost hope with Luigi. Feeling the imminent death, he went back home to bring clothes for the baby.
On his way, he met a friend Luigi Ingaliso, very trustful in Blessed Mariam Bawardy. The situation was tense, the meeting was short, the words difficult. Luigi Ingaliso promised to pray for the child. He went out to bring a relic of the Blessed which he keeps at home, convinced that she was able to intercede for the cure of Emanuele. He decided to take the relic to Biagia. It was the beginning g of a chain of prayers through the intercession of Mariam which involved the family, the village of Augusta, friends and unknown persons, up to the Carmelites of the Holy Land.
Baby arrived in Taormina Hospital in very bad shape. This time, according to doctors, it was a case of congenital cardiopathy, very complicated, revealing that lung veins do not regurgitate into the heart, but into the system of hepatic veins. The operation involved a high level risk for a little baby, 3 days old. But the mother managed to go to Taormina, and thought of touching the body of the child with the relic of the Blessed Mariam.
One of the doctors reported how it was unusual affected that a baby with such deformity could survive three days after his birth, without any operation connecting lung veins with the heart. Moreover, at the moment of surgery, the baby’s clinical condition was desperate : the doctors were unable to explain the quickness of cure and the total absence of after-effects. This cure , sudden and total, was attributed to the intercession of Blessed Mariam of Jesus Crucified. Pope Francis approved the “decree” on the miracle of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 6 December 2014.
Sr Mariam of Jesus Crucified, pray for us !
Texts adapted by Firas Abedrabbo