Youssef Makhlouf was born on May 8th, 1828 in the Maronite village of Bekaakafra, the highest village in Lebanon, at an altitude of 1,800 meters. He was the son of a modest family of peasants, his father dies when he is three years old, Youssef was raised by his mother and inherited a deep faith from her. At seven, he was a shepherd and while his flock rested he often took refuge in a cave to pray. He went to the village school, where he studied Arabic and Syriac. At a very young age, he was attracted by monastic life.
At the age of twenty, he often went to the monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouk of the Lebanese Maronite Order and decided to enter it. His mother said to him: “If you weren't a good monk, I would tell you to come home, but now I know that the Lord wants you to serve him and bless you and make you a saint.” After ten days, Youssef said his vows and chose the name of Charbel, an illustrious martyr of the Church of Antioch. From the very beginning of his clergy life, his generosity exceeded all obligations. No manual work was too lowly for him. He was charged with cleaning the corridors, collecting garbage, clearing uncultivated land. At the age of 25, Brother Charbel pronounced his vows and went to study theology at the Saint Cyprian convent in Kfifan. He was ordained a priest in 1859 in Bkerke, and Charbel spent 16 years in the monastery of Saint Maron in Annaya.
At the age of 47, the Lord inspired him to retire to a hermitage. The superiors did not accept him easily, and asked the Lord for a sign. This sign would be that the lamp of Saint Charbel, filled with water instead of oil, burned normally. The next day, February 15, 1875, Father Charbel obtained permission from his superior to retire to the hermitage of Saint Peter and Saint Paul next to the monastery. For 23 years, until his death, he led a life of prayer and penance. Every day, he went to the chapel and worshiped for hours, almost continuously on his knees, absorbing himself in a deep meditation. In response to any questions he was asked, he kindly answered only with what was necessary. On December 16th, 1898, during Mass, Charbel was paralyzed. His agony lasted eight days, during which time he continually repeated the words of the Mass. Charbel died on December 24th, Christmas Eve.
In 1950, his tomb was opened and his body shown to visitors. This year was marked by the large number of miracles that took place around the tomb of Saint Charbel. He was beatified on December 5th, 1965. Pope Paul VI celebrated his canonization on December 9th, 1977, in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. Saint Charbel is the patron saint of Lebanon, and he is celebrated on December 24th.
The life of Saint Charbel bears similarities with that of Saint Padre Pio. Many wonders surrounded the life of Saint Charbel. One of his brothers in Annaya testified: "Everything that is read in the biographies of the saints is less than what, in my eyes, I saw accomplished by Father Charbel." He was asked to bless fields, flocks, and the sick, and grace rained down in abundance. Several times, the blessed fields and protected silkworm farms were the only ones preserved from locust invasions. The saint had the gift of reading souls and knowing things from a distance. On a day when food supplies were insufficient, he was asked to bless the pantry and the jars miraculously filled with wheat and oil.
Where did this grace come from to perform so many miracles? It is the life of Saint Charbel that tells us. The monk continually offered sacrifices and led a life of asceticism and prayer. He kept a long watch at night to pray, he fasted constantly, even worked when sick and refused medication. He spoke only when ordered and always in a low voice, with his eyes lowered and his cap covering his gaze. He only came out on the orders of his superior. Mass was at the heart of his life, he prepared for it at length and made long thanksgiving declarations.
The death of Saint Charbel was surrounded by extraordinary phenomena. For the first few nights, people saw a bright light coming out of his grave. When his tomb was opened, his body was like that of someone sleeping, and it exuded a liquid itself capable of healing. This liquid flowed from the body of Saint Charbel for 79 years, that is, until the year of canonization.
The miracles of Saint Charbel have crossed the borders of Lebanon. The healing received by his intercession number in the tens of thousands and concern believers of all religions and faiths. In many cases, the apparitions of Saint Charbel in dreams preceded the miracle.
The Church recognized two miracles for the beatification of Saint Charbel and a third for canonization. Many other miracles have been reported and new testimonies of miraculous healings and graces obtained continue to reach the convent of Annaya.
One of the most stunning miracles was Nohad Al-Chami in 1993. After a stroke followed by a double occlusion of the carotid, this mother became hemiplegic. Her children began to apply to a mixture of earth and oil from the tomb of Saint Charbel to her neck. In a dream, Nohad saw two monks, Saint Maron and Saint Charbel who told her "I am here to operate on you", and in fact at this moment, she felt a sharp pain in her throat. When she woke up, Nohad noticed two great scars on both sides of her neck, the surgical threads were visible. After several days Saint Charbel returned to see her in a dream and asked her to go every 22nd of the month in thanksgiving to the convent of Annaya to participate in the mass, the saint specified that these scars were the will of God as a sign for the unbelievers. Subsequently, an ultrasound showed that she had had a true bilateral carotid surgery.
In 1937, Iskandar Obeid lost sight of one eye following an accident. To avoid infection of the healthy eye, doctors advised him to remove the diseased eye. He waited again, unable to resign himself to the operation, and in 1950 he began to pray to Saint Charbel and went to the monastery of Annaya. Upon his return, he had more and more pain in his eye and saw Saint Charbel in a dream. When he woke up, he looked at the image of Saint Charbel with his sick eye and saw it perfectly. The doctors noticed the inexplicable phenomenon, the iris had returned to normal.
Mariam Assaf Awad, a woman of Syrian origin living in Lebanon, underwent three operations between 1963 and 1965 to treat cancerous tumours in the stomach, intestines and neck. In view of the seriousness of her condition, she began to pray to Blessed Charbel and refusing all treatment at the same time. In her prayer, Mariam asked either for healing or for the strength to resist the disease. One evening she uttered this invocation: “Please, O Saint Charbel, you who had healed the blind and the crippled, heal me of this disease, and once healed I will thank you in your sanctuary.” When she woke up the tumor had diminished, for four days she repeated the invocation until the tumor had completely disappeared.
Saint Charbel is a powerful intercessor and close to the faithful, we see the depth of the friendship that develops between Saint Charbel and those who implore him and entrust their prayer intentions to him. In Lebanon, the litanies of Saint Charbel are recited in the churches during the novena of preparation for his feast. Here are several novenas to confide in Saint Charbel:
God, infinitely holy and glorified in your saints,
You who inspired the holy monk and hermit Charbel to live and die in perfect resemblance to Jesus, giving him the strength to detach himself from the world in order to make triumph, in his hermitage, the heroism of the monastic virtues: poverty, obedience and chastity, we implore you to grant us the grace to love you and to serve you by his example.
Lord Almighty, who manifested the power of Saint Charbel's intercession through many miracles and favors, grant us the grace (…) that we implore through his intercession.
Enlighten our minds and hearts, increase our faith and strengthen our will.
Increase our love for God and our neighbor. Help us do good and avoid evil.
Defend us from our visible and invisible enemies and help us throughout our lives.
You who work wonders for Him who calls on you and obtains the healing of innumerable evils and the solution to problems without human hope, look at us with pity and, if it is in accordance with the divine will and our greatest good, obtain from God the grace that we implore(…), but above all help us to imitate your holy and virtuous life.