St. Rafqa's Biography
THE LEBANESE MARONITE NUN (1832 – 1914)
- RAFQA in Himlaya (1832 - 1859)
- RAFQA in the Congregation of the Mariamettes (1859 - 1871)
- RAFQA in the Lebanese Maronite Order (1871 - 1914)
- - In the Monastery of St. Simon El Qarn in Aita (1871 - 1897)
- - In St. Joseph Monastery Al Dahr in Jrabta (1897 - 1914)
- Pope declarations concerning RAFQA
1- RAFQA in Himlaya (1832 - 1859)
She is like the lily of Himlaya
Grown as a bud in the land of Jrabta
And will grow thanks to the sky
1. The idea of Saint Rafqa’s basilica
Saint Rafqa was born in Himlaya, one of the villages of Northern Metn near Bikfaya, on June 29th, 1832.
She was the only child of Saber El-Choboq El Rayess and Rafqa Gemayel.
On July 7th, 1832, she was baptized and named Boutroussieh.
Her parents taught her to love God and pray daily. At the age of seven, she suffered her first great loss with the death of her mother.
In 1843, her father experienced financial difficulties and sent her to work as a servant for four years in Damascus in the house of Assaad Al-Badawi, of the Lebanese Nationality. Rafqa became a beautiful, pleasant, humorous young woman, pure and tender with a serene voice.
In 1847, she came back home to find that her father had remarried. His new wife wanted Rafqa to marry her brother. A conflict developed when her aunt tried also to arrange a marriage between her son and Rafqa.
So Rafqa asked God to help Her and clear Her thoughts. Thus, Her decision, to devote Her life to Jesus-Christ and to become a nun was Her greatest joy.
2- RAFQA in the Congregation of the Mariamettes (1859 - 1871)
At that time, Rafqa felt drawn in the religious life so she asked God to help her achieve her desire. She decided to go to the convent of Our Lady of Deliverance in Bikfaya. There, she joined the Mariamettes, founded by Father Joseph Gemayel.
When she entered the convent church, she felt deep joy and happiness. One look at the icon of Our Lady of Deliverance was enough to confirm God’s voice who told her to enter the religious life: "You will become a nun". The Mother Superior accepted Rafqa without questioning her, she entered the convent, after that, she refused to go back home with her father and his wife, when they came to discourage her from becoming a nun.
Following a period of postulate, Rafqa wore the robe of novice related to the congregation on the feast of St. Joseph on March 19th, 1861. A year later and at the same date, she pronounced her temporary vows.
The new vower went to Ghazir's Seminary where she was in charge of kitchen service. Among the seminarians were Elias Howayek, later to become Patriarch, and Boutros El- Zoghbi, later to become Archbishop.
Rafqa studied in her free time Arabic, calligraphy and arithmetic and also helped girls aspiring to join her congregation.
In 1860, Rafqa was sent to Deir El Qamar to teach catechism. There, she witnessed the bloody clashes that occurred in Lebanon during that period. On one occasion, she risked her own life by hiding a child under her robe and saving him from death.
After a year in Deir El Qamar, Rafqa returned to Ghazir. In 1863, she was sent to teach in a school of her congregation in Byblos. One year later, she was transferred to Maad village. There, with another nun, she spent seven years establishing a new school for girls, this was made possible through the generosity of Mr. Antoun Issa.
3- RAFQA in the Lebanese Maronite Order:
In the Monastery of St. Simon El Qarn in Aito (1871 - 1897).
While living in Maad and following a crisis in her congregation, Rafqa asked God to guide her to the right decision. Entering at St. George Church, to pray for help, she heard the Lord’s voice telling her: "You will remain a nun". In the same night, she dreams and see St. George, St. Simon the stylit and St. Anthony the Great, the Father of monasticism. St. Anthony the Great told her: "Enter into the Lebanese Maronite Order".
Her trip from Maad to the Maronite Monastery of St. Simon El Qarn in Aito was facilitated by the generosity of Mr. Antoun Issa. She was immediately admitted in the Order. She wore the novice robe on July 12th, 1871 and pronounced her solemn vows on August 25th, 1872. She chose the name "Sister Rafqa", after her mother.
She spent 26 years in the monastery of St. Simon. She was a role model to the other nuns in her observation of the rules and her devotion to prayer and silence. Her life was full of sacrifice and austerity.
On the first Sunday of October 1885, she entered the monastery's church and began to pray asking Jesus to permit her to experience some of the sufferings He endured during His Passion. Her prayer was immediately granted: Unbearable pain began in her head and moved to her eyes.
Her Superior insisted that she undergoes a medical treatment. After all local attempts to cure her had failed, she was sent to Beirut for treatment. Passing by St. John-Marcus Church in Byblos, her companions learned that an American doctor was in the area. So they took her to him. He ordered an immediate surgery for her right eye. St. Rafqa refused anesthesia. In the course of the surgery, the doctor uprooted by mistake her eye which fell on the floor. Rafqa did not complain and told him: "For Christ's Passion, God bless your hands and may God pay you back". Within a short time, the disease struck the left eye.
For the next 12 years she continued to experience intense pain in her head. Throughout this period, as before, she remained patient and uncomplaining, praying in joy for the gift of sharing in Jesus’ suffering.
In Saint Joseph Monastery Al Dahr in Jrabta-Batroun (1897 - 1914).
At Saint Simon’s monastery, lived sister Ursula Doumit who suffered from arthritis. Her doctors advised her to live near the coast. Sister Ursula’s brother, Fr. Ignace Doumit decided to found a monastery for nuns in Jrabta in the district of Batroun. Where the land for the project was donated by Fr. John Basbous.
On November 3, 1897, six nuns - presided by Mother Ursula Doumit - were sent to the new monastery of Saint Joseph, Sister Rafqa was among them. The other nuns were hopeful that the new monastery would prosper thanks to her prayers and the example she set.
In 1899, she lost the sight in her left eye and became paralyzed. With this, a new stage of her suffering began, intensified by the dislocation of her articulations. She spent the last seven years of her life lying on the bed, only on the right side of her body. She could not move. There was a very big injury in her left shoulder and she used to repeat: “For the wound in the shoulder of Jesus”. Her vertebras were visible through her skin and her body was very light. She became like a skeleton covered by skin. Her hands stayed intact; she used them to weave socks.
Although she was blind and paralyzed she kept smiling and thanking God for His grace of letting her participate in His Passion. Her face reflected peace and tenderness until the end of her days.
According to some doctors, Rafqa suffered from an osteo-articular tuberculosis.
On a Thursday coinciding with the Day of the Holy Sacrament, Rafqa asked to be taken to church to attend mass.
However, she could not be carried out of bed as usual in a sheet because her left hip was aching that day.
When the mass started, everyone was struck with surprise to see Rafqa crawling into the church…
When later that day she was asked by the mother superior how she could drag herself to church, Rafqa replies that she only asked Jesus to help her, then she felt herself slip out of bed and she crawled to church.
Rafqa always asked the sisters not to forget the sixth wound of Jesus; the wound on his shoulder, the wound that caused a lot of pain because it carried the cross of our sins. Rafqa always prayed and recited the Pater and Hail Mary six times for the 6 wounds of Jesus.
Rafqa was 82 when she died. She had lived 29 years in suffering. On the 23rd of March 1914, supplied with the Holy Sacrament, she called upon Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, then she rested in peace after a life of prayer, service and years of unbearable pain. She was buried in the monastery's cemetery. A splendid light appeared on her grave for three consecutive nights. With the intercession of St. Rafqa, Our Lord made lots of miracles and blessings.
On July 10th, 1927, her body was transferred to the monastery's church. The case related to her beatification was submitted to the Vatican on the 23rd of December 1925 and the canonical investigation of her life began on May 16th, 1926.
Pope declarations concerning RAFQA
Pope John Paul II declared her:
Venerable on February 11th, 1982.
Beatified on November 17th, 1985.
A role model in the adoration of the Eucharist for the Jubilee Year 2000.
Saint for the whole Church on June 10th, 2001.