Echoes of Carmel in May

On May 16, the Carmelites celebrate the feast of St. Simon Stock. A chapel has been built in his memory near the end of the Cross at «Stella Maris» monastery’s compound. As we already know, this St. Simon received from our Lady of Mount Carmel her scapular as a sign of protection for the Carmelites. It happened on July 16, 1251 and Carmelites relive this important event every year at the same date.

St. Simon was born in England on 1166 and died in France on 1265. From his youth was attracted by the solitude, living some time alone in the trunk of a tree and so was known as Simon Stock. Already on 1212 the Carmelites had a convent in Kent (England. Here St. Simon become a Carmelite member. Seven years later he came to the Holy Land. On 1238 he came back to England.

From 1245 to 1265 he was the general Superior of the Carmelites. A difficult period for them: roman ecclesiastical authorities refused to recognize the Carmelites as a religious institution. Mainly because they came from a foreign far away country in Mount Carmel, also because they have not actually a founding father, and their name was a strange name:  Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.

St. Simon begged to the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel to help the Carmelites. He used a beautiful prayer that he himself composed. A very popular prayer used by Carmelites till our days: Flower of Carmel / Tall vine blossom laden / Splendor of Heavens / Child bearing yet maiden.

As already said, our Lady helped the Carmelites telling St. Simon that she will take care of them and offering him a scapular. The holy scapular is one of the most popular devotions of our Lady. St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II both were dressing the holy scapular. At Fatima and Lourdes our Lady appeared holding a scapular during her last apparition at both places.

Here we are in Ibillin the village where the Carmelite nun St. Maryam of Jesus Crucified (Bawardi) was born on 1846. She died at Bethlehem 32 years later. Ibillin is a village in the Low Galilee surrounded by hills with olives, figs, almonds trees. The village stands at the midst way between Akko and Nazareth. The panorama enjoyed from Ibillin is a wonderful one: Mount Hermon to the north, to the east the typical hills of the Low Galilee almost reaching the Lake of Tiberias, the Plain of Esdrelon stretching

to the south, Mount Carmel going down to the Mediterranean Sea by the west. The spring of the village is known as the spring of health. The child Maryam lived surrounded by natural beauty and shining luminosity. She would keep all this beauty end use it to praise the Creator.

Maryam is a daughter of the Holy Land, the same land where the Carmelites were born. The land of the Patriarchs, the land of her father David as Maryam called him, the land of the Prophets, of the Apostles, the land of our Lady, the land of the Word was made flesh.

How Maryam speaks, lives, thinks, prays, sings, her way of living springs up from her roots grounded in the Biblical Lands. Her prayer is full of images, music, poetry, imaginery coming from the Holy Land.

Ibillin unfolds through his ruins a very rich past.  Probably it appears in the book of Josue. Certainly, in the Talmud as Evlayim. Ancient tombs and cisterns have been revealed together with remains of a synagogue and walls and columns dating from different periods. The archeology shows us how many people has passed through this village, sometimes to remain. Maryam’s family was one of those families that came from Lebanon, then went   to High Galilee and finally to Low Galilee.  These regions were and still are populated by peoples from different customs and religions. Maryam herself was a traveler, living in Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, France, India and finally Bethlehem. This variety of places and people left, no doubt about, their mark on Mariam’s personality.

As it happens to many persons, so happened to Maryam too.  An event from her childhood remains with her all her life. It happened in the garden of her uncle in Ibillin. There were some birds closed in a cage. The little girl took them out of the cage and began washing them till she realized with great pain that she has killed them. Maryam buried them. Then she heard internally a voice very clear telling her «Everything finishes.  But if you want to give me your heart, I’ll remain always with you».  Maryam was convinced that such a voice came from Jesus the Saviour. This experience so divine and personal was a crucial one in her life. The name of Jesus the Saviour -she said- means love. No matter I live or I die, I belong to my Saviour.  His name is engraved in my heart. The heart of Maryam is kept save in the heart of her Lord. Maryam asks Jesus as a gift the nails of his Cross, she gets them.  Sometimes her hands and feet were dropping blood. The first time it happens she was 21 years old.

Our Lady was very important in the life of Maryam. She was the one who took care of her, bringing her food and consolation when she was thrown in a grotto in Alessandria thinking of her a died person.  She has then 12 years old.

The poems of Maryam to our Lady echoed the praise and melody of the psalms: «Come my consolation, my joy, my peace, my strength, come my light to show me the source that can quench my thirst». The prayer of Maryam is poetry, the song of a soul in love and so remained till the end of her life. Her last night she prayed: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you my God”.. Maryam was singing a lot. Her sisters confirmed it. She was adding her own melodies to her poems. Her voice hoarse because the damaged inflicted to her vocal cords when a fanatic Egyptian Muslim tried to kill her in Alessandria. Maryam grown in Ibillin, listening the Arab popular music and the magnificent Melkite liturgy. Music helped Maryam to praise the wonders of the Creator.

There was another event that remained impressed in the heart of Maryam. One day her uncle offered hospitality to a hermit passing by Ibillin. Before leaving the family, the hermit wanted to bless their children. Looking at Maryam he was troubled, then taking her hands said: «I beg you all, take care and be attentive to this girl, take care, take care». Such a hermit could easily be recalled to the local people Elijah the prophet, solitary, man of God, extremely popular in the Holy Land.

In fact, Maryam has a fervent devotion to St. Elijah, spiritual Father of the Carmelites. On the day of his feast July 19, 1873, she begged him to intercede with God so that a convent for the Carmelite nuns could be built at Bethlehem.  Maryam prayed: «My dear and beloved father, greetings in the day of your feast. I feel so much joy and happiness. I beg you beloved father and ardently wish that you can do so that our Lord would accept you as de founder of the Carmel in Bethlehem». The foundation of the Carmelite convent in Bethlehem was a very difficult enterprise. At the end permission came from the Vatican to go on with the foundation.

The panorama from the terrace of the Carmel of Bethlehem is a magnificent one. Particularly looking towards east over the Judean desert and the Mountains of Moab. Maryam decided that the convent should have the shape of a tower «Turris Davidica». According to the saint the hill on which the convent stands is the same hill where David took the sheeps of his father Yesse to graze. On the same hill too, according to Maryam, David was ointed King by the prophet Samuel.

The devotion of Maryam to the Holy Spirit is well known, being one of the corner stone of her spirituality. We remember her famous prayer: «Oh Holy Spirit inspire me / Love of God consume me /On the right path guide me / Maria my mother come to my secure / With Jesus bless me / From all evil, and illusion / From all danger, preserve me.  Amen.

Maryam was a truly daughter of the Catholic Church.  She suffered for all the humiliations that some people inflicted to the Church. Her devotion to the Holy Father was growing more and more. God revealed her in advance the death of the one who was Pope at her time: Pius IX. Also, she knew in advance   the one who should be elected at his place: Leo XIII.  Maryam informed by letter to the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Four days after she wrote the letter to the Patriarch, Pius IX died.

After having founded the convent in Bethlehem, Miryam travelled to Nazareth to see there the land already bought to build a Carmelite convent on it. Passing by Emmaus (Nicopolis) Maryam left the group running towards a near hill. Getting the place she said: “This is the place where Jesus Christ was recognized by his two disciples. Excavations was made at this place some years later and 4 churches was discovered from Byzantine and Crusader periods.

Then the saint and her group came to the promontory of Mount Carmel to visit the sanctuary of our Lady of Mount Carmel and the grotto of Elijah the prophet that is found inside the sanctuary. The Carmelite friars had some big, beautiful dogs to take care of the monastery and surroundings. Neighbors were afraid to meet them. When the dogs met the nuns and their group, they were very kind with them surrounding the group and accepting their caresses. Maryam was the one who more played with them. When the group left, the dogs followed them for a while before coming back to the monastery.

Then the caravan arrived to Shefaram distant just four kms from Ibillin. Maryam visits her village. Coming up towards the village, the group arrived to the spring of health, the spring of Ibillin as already have been said.  Arriving to the spring Maryam said: the Sacred family stopped here to rest and quench their thirst. Then, the group arrived to the village. They met with the priest of the village Abuna Yacoub dressed as a farmer and difficult for the group to recognize him as an Abuna.  Not so, for our Saint Maryam who immediately left the group and came to abuna Yacoub, knelt and asked for his blessing. Abuna Yacoub invited the group to his home. Maryam encouraged Abuna Yacoub to be a good shepherd for their parishioners.

Then Maryam asked for his godfather in the day of her baptism, being at present   the mayor of the village. His house was close to the church and so ease to find it. The godfather was so happy to see Maryam and showed her the place where he held her during the baptism. Maryam exhorted her godfather insistently to take care of the salvation of his soul. With great emotion visited our saint Maryam her own home. Still was there the bowl mortar where her father prepared gunpowder. Then, she visited the garden of his uncle where she heard the voice: «Everything comes to an end, if you want to give me your heart, I’ll remain with you for ever». Her sentiment was inexpressible. Had already passed 24 years from when she last left their village heading to Alessandria in Egypt.

Leaving Nazareth she came back to Bethlehem. Here she took care of the workers being the only one among the nuns able to speak Arabic. It was e very hot day. She was bringing water for the workers to drink, when she felt on the stairs breaking her arm. The gangrene appeared and quickly spread. Some days after she died. It was August 26, 1187. Maryam was 32 years old.

During her last days invoked often to our Lady addressing her as Mamma of Love. Six hours before died, it was 23:00 hours   at night, two priests came to visit her and asked her if it was there something worrying her. She answered: No. I’m in peace”. Then looking at them, she said: «Now I cannot speak, but in the eternity, I’ll pray for you and I won’t forget anyone».

Maryam was beatified by Jean Paul II on November 13, 1983. The Holy Father said at the occasion: «Maryam is the fruit of the Holy Land. Through her everything speaks us about Jesus. She shows us the history of salvation and invite us to allow this history to become a part of our own history today.

Maryam is a shining light for the Christians of the middle east. She encourages the faithful people to witness the faith in their land and to remain in the land where our faith took place». Maryam was proclaimed saint on May 17, 2015 by Pope Francis at the Vatican Rome.


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