Saint Charbel Makhlouf, O.L.M. (or Sharbel Maklouf), (Arabic: مار شربل, May 8, 1828 – December 24, 1898) was a Maronite monk and priest from Lebanon. During his life he obtained a wide reputation for holiness and he has been canonized by the Catholic Church. Many Lebanese Christians have prayer cloths blessed and then place them on the sick, praying to God through the intercession of Saint Charbel, for healing.
Orphan and shepherd
Youssef Antoun Makhlouf was born on May 8, 1828, one of five children born to Antoun Zaarour Makhlouf and Brigitta Chidiac. They lived in the village of Bekaa Kafra, possibly the highest in the Lebanese mountains. His father, a mule driver, died in August 1831, returning from corvée for the Turkish army, leaving his wife a widow to care for their children. Later she remarried a man who went on to seek Holy Orders and became the parish priest of the village.
Youssef was raised in a pious home and became drawn to the lives of the saints and to the hermit life, as was practiced by two of his uncles. As a young boy, he was responsible for caring for the family’s small flock. He would take the flock to a grotto nearby, where he had installed an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He would spend the day in prayer.
In 1851, Youssef left his family and entered the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of Our Lady in Mayfouq to begin his training as a monk, later transferring to the Monastery of St. Maron in Annaya, located in the Jbeil District near Beirut. Here he received the religious habit of a monk and took the name Charbel, after a Christian martyr in Antioch from the 2nd century. He made his final religious profession in the Order on November 1, 1853.
As a young monk Charbel began his study of philosophy and theology at the Monastery of Saints Cyprian & Justina in Kfifan, in the Batroun District of Lebanon, to prepare himself for receiving Holy Orders. Among his professors at the seminary was Father Nimatullah Kassab, who was himself later also declared a saint. He was ordained six years later, on July 23, 1859, in Bkerke. He was sent back to St. Maron Monastery, where he lived a life of severe asceticism in the monastery.
In 1875, Charbel was granted by the abbot of the monastery the privilege of living as a hermit at the Hermitage of Saints Peter and Paul, a chapel under the care of the monastery. He spent the next 23 years living as a solitary hermit, until his death from a stroke on December 24, 1898.
Death and miracles
Charbel was interred at St. Maron’s Monastery on Christmas Day of that year. It was reported that, during the transport of his corpse, the inclement weather conditions hindered the pallbearers in carrying out their duty.
“Father Charbel died on the eve of Christmas; the snow was heavy. We transferred him to the monastery on Christmas day. Before we moved him, the snow was falling rapidly and the clouds were very dark. When we carried him, the clouds disappeared, and the weather cleared.” Statement by George Emmanuel Abi-Saseen, one of the pallbearers
One story claims: “A few months after his death, a bright light was seen surrounding his tomb and the superiors opened it to find his body still intact. Since that day, a blood-like liquid flows from his body. Experts and doctors were unable to give medical explanations for the incorruptibility and flexibility.” In the years 1950 and 1952, his tomb was opened and his body supposedly still had the appearance of a living one. The official site mentions: In this century his grave has been opened four times, the last time being in 1955, and each time “it has been noticed that his bleeding body still has its flexibility as if it were alive”; no mentioning of later openings. The Catholic Tradition website says: Father Joseph Mahfouz, the postulator of the cause, certified that in 1965 the body of Saint Charbel was still preserved intact with no alteration. In 1976 he again witnessed the opening of the grave; this time the body was completely decomposed. Only the skeleton remained.
On December 5, 1965, Pope Paul VI presided at the beatification of Father Charbel at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. The Pope said: “A hermit of Mount Lebanon is enrolled in the number of the blessed… a new eminent member of monastic sanctity has by his example and his intercession enriched the entire Christian people … may he make us understand, in a world largely fascinated by wealth and comfort, the paramount value of poverty, penance and asceticism, to liberate the soul in its ascent to God.”
On October 9, 1977, Pope Paul VI presided at the canonization of Blessed Charbel. At the time Bishop Francis Zayek, head the U.S. Diocese of St. Maron, wrote a pamphlet entitled “A New Star of the East.” Bishop Zayek wrote: “St. Sharbel is called the second St. Anthony of the Desert, the Perfume of Lebanon, the first Confessor of the East to be raised to the Altars according to the actual procedure of the Catholic Church, the honor of our Aramaic Antiochian Church, and the model of spiritual values and renewal. Sharbel is like a Cedar of Lebanon standing in eternal prayer, on top of a mountain.” The bishop noted that Sharbel’s canonization plus the beatification causes of others prove “that the Aramaic Maronite Antiochian Church is indeed a living branch of the Catholic Church and is intimately connected with the trunk, who is Christ, our Savior, the beginning and the end of all things.” 
As a member of the Lebanese Maronite Order and as a Saint of the Maronite Church, St Charbel is an exemplar of the Maronite expression of Catholic holiness and values. As a Saint of the Universal Church, St Charbel Makhlouf’s example of virtue and intercessory power is available to Catholics of all backgrounds. Faithful to his Maronite spirituality, St Charbel became a Saint for the Universal Church.
Among the many miracles related to Saint Charbel the Church chose two of them to declare the beatification, and a third for his canonization. These miracles are:
- the healing of Sister Mary Abel Kamari of the Sacred Hearts
- the healing of Iskandar Naim Obeid from Baabdat
- the healing of Mariam Awad from Hammana.
A great number of miracles have been attributed to Saint Charbel since his death. The most famous one is that of Nohad El Shami, a 55-year-old woman at the time of the miracle who was healed from a partial paralysis. She tells that on the night of January 22, 1993, she saw in her dream two Maronite monks standing next to her bed. One of them put his hands on her neck and operated on her, relieving her from her pain while the other held a pillow behind her back. When she woke she discovered two wounds in her neck, one on each side. She was completely healed and recovered her ability to walk. She believed that it was Saint Charbel who healed her but did not recognize the other monk. Next night, she again saw Saint Charbel in her dream. He said to her: “I did the surgery to let people see and return to faith. I ask you to visit the hermitage on the 22nd of every month, and attend Mass regularly for the rest of your life”. People now gather on the 22nd of each month to pray and celebrate the Mass in the hermitage of Saint Charbel in Annaya.