Catholic officials in the Holy Land hope ceremony can help inspire Christians in the Middle East
In parishes and Christian neighborhoods throughout the Holy Land leading up to the May 17 canonizations of two Arabic-speaking nuns, posters and flags proudly proclaimed the honor being bestowed by Pope Francis upon Sister Mariam Baouardy (known as Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified) and Mother Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas.
At a time when Christians are facing a precarious and threatening reality across the Middle East, the canonizations of these two women, who lived in the second half of the 19th century, created a sense of pride and joy among Christians, and they are being hailed as intercessors for peace and a bridge among religions.
During Pope Francis’ homily at the Mass in St. Peter’s Square, at which he also canonized two other 19th-century nuns — French St. Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve and Italian St. Maria Cristina Brando — the Holy Father spoke on the need for unity and the strength we draw from the Holy Spirit.
“This love is the ever-flowing source of our joy in following the Lord along the path of his poverty, his virginity and his obedience; and this same love calls us to cultivate contemplative prayer. Sister Mariam Baouardy experienced this in an outstanding way,” Pope Francis said. “So too, Sister Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas came to understand clearly what it means to radiate the love of God in the apostolate, and to be a witness to meekness and unity.”
Intercessors for peace
Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem spoke of the saints’ role in peace in the Holy Land during a May 6 news conference. “The two saints lived in Palestine before it was divided. They did not know the Israeli-Arab conflict. I am sure they follow our situation from heaven and will continue to intercede for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. Their intercession is strong and efficacious.”
He said not only Christian Palestinians should be proud of the two saints, but also that Muslims and Jews “can be happy because two persons from our country joined the highest degree of human righteousness, spiritual wisdom and mystical experience of God. ... They are models for all and intercessors for all. Interceding for the Holy Land, they do not segregate among Christians and non-Christians,” he said.
As Middle Eastern Christians are feeling a sense of abandonment and despair, said Latin Patriarchal Vicar Father David Neuhaus, this message of belonging to the universal Church is important. Although the canonization process began many years ago, it is providential that its culmination has come now, with the help of Pope Francis expediting the process. The Argentine pontiff has many ways of sharing his message of caring for all people, especially the less fortunate, and the canonization is one of them, he said.
“The fact that the pope is recognizing the sanctity of two Arab women is a sign (for the Christians here) that they are not forgotten and the saints in heaven are praying for them,” said Father Neuhaus.
'Hold your cross with joy'
St. Mother Marie-Alphonsine was very active in education, especially for Arab women and girls, while St. Mariam was contemplative, consecrating her life through prayer.
Rosary Sister Mother Superior Iness Al-Yacoub, whose order — the only Arab congregation of women religious — was founded by Mother Marie, said the canonization sends a message of “hope, strength and impetus to maintain their faith and presence” to the Christians of the Holy Land.
“To Christians in the Middle East, who have been going through difficult challenges, she is a reminder that the message of peace and love is their true light that would endure their presence in spite of all of the darkness that spreads in the region,” she said. “She carried her cross with joy; she lived according to the Gospel. She inspires us and gives us her message that holiness is not so far. It is easy. Everyone can be a saint — and should be a saint — if he lives as the Gospel tells us: love God, love the others, serve the one that is in need. Hold your cross with joy and love despite the difficulties.”