Saint Mariam of Jesus-Crucified is often called the «little Teresa of the Arab world» in the Holy Land.
Born about the same time as Therese, Mariam essentially shared a parallel message of confidence and love in the total gift of self, yet in a different way. One way is completely Western and the other Oriental. Mariam was born in 1846 and baptized in 1878 in the Melkite (Greek Catholic) Eastern Rite, whose spirituality remarks the Presence of the Holy Spirit more clearly than in the western rite and in the rite of Baptism the action of the Spirit is placed in the foreground. She was therefore imbued by the Holy Spirit and shows this to us in her life and writings. She was also born in a miraculous way as her parents had not been able to have a surviving child. It was with faith that her parents made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, hoping that their desire be granted. Their prayer was answered and Mariam was born.
When she was only three years old her parents died. She was adopted by a relative and moved to Alexandria with the rest of the family. Her uncle wanted her to marry, but she rebuffed such an idea as even at a very young age she felt a call to give herself uniquely to God. Her choice of being consecrated to God not only strained her relationship first with her uncle, but subsequently with a former Muslim servant whom he comes seeking help. To him she would have been obliged to abandon her Christian faith and become Muslim and if she did not, her life would be at risk. She preferred death then to abandon her faith, and it could be said that when her throat was slit, she was indeed a martyr. She was healed miraculously by the Virgin Mary, but had no further contact with her family for a number of years. She worked as a servant in several families … in Alexandria, Beirut, Jerusalem, and finally found her way to Marseilles, again as a family servant.
When she was nineteen years old, she spent two years with the Sisters of St. Joseph. This allowed her to learn a little French and receive a religious formation. It was during this period that she began to receive the stigmata, reliving the passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. With humble simplicity, she realized that the nuns thought that she had a contagious illness that might affect others.
She was not accepted to pursue her religious formation with the sisters of Saint Joseph and was directed to the Carmel of Pau. There she entered along with another sister of Saint Joseph and remained at the monastery for three years. The Carmel of Pau made its initial foundation in Mangalore, India, which was also the first female Carmelite foundation in the area. Two years later, she returned to the Carmel of Pau and remained there again for another two to three years.
She then left to start the foundation of the Bethlehem Carmel and it was here that she died at the age of thirty-two from an accident when she fell as she was carrying a jug of water to workers. She had many mystical graces. She was a lay-sister, one who did all the heavy work, in the kitchen, the household, the garden, and the laundry. Her menial tasks, humble as they may have been, were always lifted to most lofty of spiritual heights. She was called the «little nothing», and this was what she herself believed. She was Our Lord’s «little nothing» and as the Holy Spirit is visualized as wind, blowing where it will and as it wills, she was just the “lowly dust’ to be blow in whatever way God wanted. She was God’s «dust», easily carried away by the Spirit, and as a great rock could not! She approached the barrier of death and experienced Heaven, being miraculously healed by the Virgin Mary. Such grace remained indelible in all her life, witnessing to the invisible powers of Heaven on earth as when one touches the hand of a loving God, knowing that He is very close. She had the gift of opening her heart to the graces of the Holy Spirit and where the Spirit moves, all can be changed and transformed.
Mariam’s Oriental identity assists us in understanding the richness of Middle Eastern culture. It may also be a Christian witness to non-believers, aiding them to better understand the Teachings of Christ. Being a child of the Middle East, Mariam brings the West and East together in a harmonious blending. In God we are all one.