I stepped up the center aisle of the small church and moved towards the sanctuary. Candlelight danced off of a wooden box that stood in front of the altar. I stood before this box, transfixed. In this small reliquary lay fragments of the bones of St. Charbel, a 19th century Maronite Catholic. He spent over twenty years living as a hermit in Lebanon, where he was widely revered for his holiness.
These first-class relics of St. Charbel travelled to the United States last fall to visit several parishes throughout the country. I excitedly waited for the day when the relics would visit a local parish. I knew that this could easily be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, since the relics of St. Charbel do not leave Lebanon on pilgrimage. On that Thursday evening, I bounded up the path towards the church, eager to pray before the bones of my life-long intercessor.
However, when I walked into the darkened church, my energy evaporated. Silently standing in the flickering candlelight, I was overcome with a deep peace. My thoughts turned towards the horrific bombing of Beirut, which took place on November 12, 2015. Just one week after tragedy swept through the capitol of Lebanon, this beloved saint of that country came to visit my home in the Midwest. Despite all of the chaos, violence, and grief in the Middle East, God’s peace still reigned. Peace surrounded the small wooden box that stood before me, and the stories from St. Charbel's life-which were read aloud later that evening-were filled with this same peace. I knew, with all certainty, that this peace must never be lost. In the midst of the sorrowful events which crowd the evening news, we all must seek to peacefully trust in God’s plan, and cultivate this peace in our daily lives.
Praying before the bone fragments of St. Charbel, I was also filled with hope. Daily, people suffer and die throughout the world. Christians in the Middle East continue to be attacked, persecuted, and killed, like with the recent tragedy in Qamishli, Syria. Yet, despite all of the hardships that Christians face worldwide, the physical remains of St. Charbel reminded me to hope. Through centuries of persecutions, Christians have continued to glorify God by their lives and witness. Out of a violence-torn country, the bones of a modern saint came to touch thousands of people in the United States of America. The relics of this Lebanese man showed me that no matter how harsh circumstances may be, God will always triumph over all evil.