Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès bigraphy, stories - Lebanese saint

Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès : biography

June 29, 1832 - March 23, 1914

Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès (Arabic: رفقا بطرسيّة شبق ألريّس, June 29, 1832 – March 23, 1914), also known as Saint Rafka (Arabic name for Rebecca), is a Lebanese Maronite saint canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 10, 2001.

Birth and Youth

She was born in Himlaya on 29 June 1832 on the Feast of St. Peter. She was baptised as Boutrossieh (pronounced in Arabic as the feminine of Peter). She was the only child of Saber Mourad El Rayess and Rafqa Gemayel. Her mother died when she was seven years of age. In 1843, her father experienced financial difficulties and sent her to work as a servant for four years in Damascus at the home of Assaad Al-Badawi. She returned home in 1847 to find that her father had remarried

When Boutrossieh was 14 years old her stepmother wanted her to marry her brother, and her maternal aunt wanted her to marry her son. Boutrossieh did not want to marry either of the men and this caused a great deal of discord in her family. One day, while she was coming back from the fountain, holding her jar, she overheard them arguing. She asked God to help her deal with the problem. She then decided to become a nun and went straight to the convent of Our Lady of Liberation at Bikfaya.

As she later recounted, “When I entered the Church I felt immense joy, inner relief and, looking at the image of the Blessed Virgin, I felt as if a voice had come from it and ... said to me: You will be a nun.”

Boutrossieh's father and stepmother tried to take her back home but she did not want to go. “I asked the mistress of novices to excuse me from seeing them and she agreed. They returned home, saddened, and since then I never saw them again…”

Her kinsman, Father Joseph Gemayel and his family founded a new religious institute for women that provided them with full- time education as well as religious instruction. Boutrossieh's name, Pierina (in French), was listed last among the first four aspirants of “Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception” (“Mariamettes”, in French) in Father Gemayel’s notebook dated January 1, 1853. She was 21.

Beatification and canonization

On June 9, 1984, the eve of Pentecost, in the presence of the Pope John Paul II, the decree approving the miracle of Elizabeth Ennakl, who was said to have been completely cured of uterine cancer in 1938 at the tomb of Rafka, was promulgated.

On November 16, 1985, Pope John Paul II declared St Rafqa Al Rayess a blessed and on June 10, 2001, he elevated her to the rank of saint at a solemn ceremony in the Vatican.

Life with pain

In 1885 Rafqa decided not to join the nuns for a walk around the monastery. In her autobiographical account she wrote, “It was the first Sunday of the Rosary. I did not accompany them. Before leaving each of the nuns came and said to me, ‘Pray for me sister.’ There were some who asked me to say seven decades of the Rosary … I went to the Church and started to pray. Seeing that I was in good health and that I had never been sick in my life, I prayed to God in this way, ‘Why, O my God, have you distance yourself from me and have abandoned me. You have never visited me with sickness! Have you perhaps abandoned me?’”

Blessed Rafqa continued in her account to her superior, the next night after the prayer “At the moment of sleeping I felt a most violent pain spreading above my eyes to the point that I reached the state you see me in, blind and paralyzed, and as I myself had asked for sickness I could not allow myself to complain or murmur.”

“The symbolic daughter of a country which for over a decade has been in the world headlines because of its suffering,” Blessed Rafqa suffered many years because of her desire to share in the passion of Jesus Christ.

The Mother Superior sent Sister Rafqa to Tripoli, where she submitted to a painful medical examination. For two years, Blessed Rafqa suffered. She went to several doctors who all agreed that there was nothing they could do. Upon the persuasion of Father Estefan, Blessed Rafqa consulted an American doctor who strongly suggested that the eye be removed. Estefan recalls, “Before the operation I asked the doctor to anesthetize the eye so that Rafqa would not feel any pain but she refused. The doctor made her sit down and pushed a long scalpel … into her eye … the eye popped out and fell on the ground, palpitating slightly … Rafqa didn’t complain … but only said, ‘in communion with Christ’s Passion.’” The pain was then all concentrated to her left eye and nothing could be done.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine