St. Sharbel's relics visited St. Maron Parish, Cleveland, in October.
St. Sharbel's relics visited St. Maron Parish, Cleveland, in October.

Maronite Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan, together with Archbishop Alexander Sample, will celebrate the Pontifical Maronite Divine Liturgy at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, at Saint Sharbel Church in Portland. Concelebrants will be Father Christopher Fabre, pastor of Saint Sharbel’s, Father Jonathan Decker, prior of Sacred Heart Monastery; and Father Anthony Alles, sub-prior.

The special liturgy follows the 8:30 a.m. arrival and enthronement of the relics of Saint Sharbel Mahklouf at the parish.

The relics are going to more than 30 Maronite parishes in the United States, and some some Roman and Byzantine Catholic parishes as well.

“The honor is that the relics will be here at Saint Sharbel’s for the 50th anniversary of the beatification,” says Father Fabre. Saint Sharbel was beatified on Dec. 5, 1965. Blessed Paul VI officiated at that ceremony during the final days of the Second Vatican Council.

Blessed Paul VI also canonized Saint Sharbel, on Oct. 9, 1977, also in Rome. Saint Sharbel was the first Maronite saint to be formally canonized in Rome.

Father Fabre, who formerly lived in Central America, says there’s a devotion to Saint Sharbel in Chiapas, Mexico, and elsewhere in Latin America.

Youssef Antoun Makhluf (Saint Sharbel’s secular name) was born in 1828, and grew to be a devout child, obedient and scholarly. He became a monk in 1853 and was ordained in 1859. He lived at the Monastery of Saint Maron in Annaya, becoming a hermit in 1875. A stroke felled him on Christmas Eve, 1898, as he celebrated Mass.

Some miracles were associated with him before his death, but afterwards hundreds were attributed to his intercession. Saint Sharbel healed Jewish and Muslim seekers as well as Christian.

The most famous miracle involved a woman who had lived since childhood with a disfiguring and incurable hunch in her back. She came to Saint Sharbel’s tomb to pray for needy relatives. Afterwards, her back was normal.

Two supernatural happenings beyond science’s ability to explain are necessary before a person may be beatified. In Saint Sharbel’s case, both those miracles happened in 1950. The first involved a nun who had an incurable gastric ulcer. She had been ill for so long that she had been anointed three times. After praying at Saint Sharbel’s tomb, she was completely cured.

The second miracle of the two miracles accepted by the Sacred Congregation involved a blind man whose retina had been torn when he was hit by a tree branch. At Saint Sharbel’s tomb, his sight was restored, and he saw Saint Sharbel in a vision.

Father Fabre says Saint Rafqa (or Rafka), Saint Sharbel and Saint Numtulla Ardeemi are all from a relatively small area in Lebanon and are related spiritually. Another, Blessed Jacob of Ghazir, has been submitted to Rome. “These saints in Lebanon are alive to the people there,” says Father Fabre, who has met people there who have experienced miracles they attributed to Saint Sharbel.

His relics, which are first order relics, are kept in a carved, coffin-shaped wooden box.

St. Sharbel is Father Fabre’s first assignment as a priest, and he says the people have been welcoming and “lovely.” Now, he’ll concelebrate the liturgy on Sunday with his bishop.

“I’m very blessed,” he says.

The schedule for the Dec. 5-6 visit is at http://www.saintsharbel.com

The website for the relics is www.stsharbelusa.org