Saint Rafca (Boutrosyeh Reyes)
Teacher, Cook, Housekeeper, Knitter, Prayer Warrior, Adorer of the Eucharist
Patroness of Suffering &
Flower of Lebanon (1832 - 1914)
June 10, 2001, Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy by Pope John Paul II
Date of Birth:
June 29, 1832, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul
About Saint Rafca
Saint Rafqa was born in Hemlaya, Lebanon on June 29, 1832. She was the only child of her parents, Saber El-Choboq El-Rayess and Rafqa Gemayel. She was baptized on July 7, 1832 and named Boutroussieh. Her parents were devout Christians and taught her daily prayers. By all accounts, her childhood was happy and simple, until she was just 7 years old and her mother, Rafqa (for whom she was named) died. The death of her mother started a period of tribulation for Rafqa and her father, who soon experienced financial difficulties. Rafqa was sent to work as a domestic servant for four years to help support the family. During that period, she worked in Damascus, away from her father.
In 1847, she returned to find that her father had remarried and his new wife desired that Rafqa marry her brother. At the same time, an aunt wanted to arrange a marriage between Rafqa and her cousin. Rafqa was left to decide what to do with herself, split between two potential suitors and under pressure from family to make two different choices. She turned to prayer and asked God to guide her. Her answer surprised everyone. Rafqa would marry neither man, but instead would devote her life to Jesus and become a nun.
Rafqa traveled to the convent of Our Lady of Deliverance in Bikfaya. She joined the Mariamettes, founded by Fr. Jospeh Gemayel. According to legend, when she entered the convent and gazed upon the icon of Our Lady of Deliverance, she heard the voice of God tell her "You will become a nun.” The Mother Superior of the convent accepted her immediately, without question. Shortly thereafter, her father and his new wife arrived to try to dissuade Rafqa from her God-chosen path. She refused to leave and remained devoted to her vocation.
She was sent to Deir El Qamar to teach catechism. The town became the site of civil unrest and on one occasions he reportedly saved a child from murder by hiding him under her robes.She served in Deir El Qamar for a year.
In 1861, she returned to her congregation and become a novice. On March 19, 1862, she took her temporary vows and was assigned to kitchen service in a seminary. Rafqa spent her free time learning Arabic, writing, and arithmetic. She also helped convince other girls to join the congregation. In 1863, she continued working as a teacher, first at a school belonging to her congregation in Byblos, then Maad village where she and a fellow sister established a new school for girls. Following this early period, Rafqa repeatedly heard messages from heaven. When her order faced a crisis, god told her "You will remain a nun." And she heard the voices of saints directing her to enter the Lebanese Maronite Order. She obeyed.
Sister Rafqa took her solemn vows in the new order on Augist 25, 1872. During her time, she was known to be quiet and contemplative. She was devoted to prayer and spoke little. She commonly made sacrifices and lived in great austerity.
In October 1885, Sister Rafqa made an unusual request of Jesus, asking to share in his suffering. She immediately began to experience pain in her head, which moved to her eyes. Her superior was concerned about Rafqa's pain and ordered that she be examined by doctors and sent to Beirut for treatment. As she passed through the nearby church in Byblos, the congregation made note that an American doctor was in the area. The located the doctor who recommended immediate surgery for Sister Rafqa.During the surgery, she refused anesthesia, and the doctor made a mistake which caused her eye to emerge from its socket and fall to the floor. Sister Rafqa, instead of panicking, blessed the doctor, saying "For Christ's passion, god bless your hands and may God repay you.”
The surgery did not succeed. Shortly thereafter, pain entered her left eye. For the next 12 years, she experienced pain in her remaining eye and headaches. At no point did she reverse her wish to share in Christ's suffering. Instead, she remained joyful in prayer and patient in her suffering. She remained quiet for long periods, speaking infrequently, but always joyously.In 1887, Sister Rafqa was sent with five other sisters to found a new monastery in Jrabta, Batroun in Lebanon. She did as she was asked, working patiently and diligently as she was able despite her suffering. In 1899, she became blind and paralysis set in.
Eventually she was confined to bed, mostly paralyzed and only able to lie on her right side. Her body withered, but her hands remained capable, and she used them to knit socks. A wound developed in left shoulder, which she referred to as "the wound in the shoulder of Jesus.” This continued for seven years. On March 23, 1914, she received her last communion and called upon Jesus and the Holy Family, then went to her reward in Heaven.
After she was buried in the monastery cemetery, a light appeared on her grave for three consecutive nights and was witnessed by many. In 1925, a case for her beatification was opened in the Vatican and the investigation into her life began in the year following. In 1927, her grave was exhumed and she was reburied in the monastery church. Pope John Paul declared her venerable on Feb. 11, 1982, and she was beatified on Nov. 17, 1985. She was finally recognized as a saint on July 10, 2001.
Rafca the Teacher
The Holy Inspiration icon of St Rafca displayed at St George church in Maad, retraces through the art of ecclesiastic iconography, the events that took place in the life of Sister Petra (Boutrossiyeh-St Rafca) at the end of her life in Maad. These godly events represent a turnover, a beginning of a new chapter in the life of Sister Petra.
Sister Petra lived in Maad from 1863 till 1871, teaching the girls of the village and the surrounding neighborhoods, thanks to the generous donations of Antoine Issa, who brought her along with Sister Agatha to Maad. As a result of her staying and teaching in Maad, two of her disciples entered the ordered, Chamony and Ezmeralda Doumit that later became Sister Takla and Mother Ursula.
During her stay in Maad, Sister Petra came to know that the Jesuit fathers wished to unite the Marian society in Bekfaya to the Sacred Heart society in Zahle. Both societies were to become one known as “Jesus and Mary Sacred Hearts”, and their leaders would leave it up to the sisters to decide to join the new society or go back to the secular world.
Sister Petra worried about her future and was anxious about her choice to join the new society or leave. Father Antonios Chebli recorded her encounters with Mother Ursula Doumit who wrote her biography. Sister Petra expresses the following: “When I knew about the new society, I was confused and overwhelmed. I immediately entered St George church in Maad and began praying and sobbing asking the Lord to guide my steps according to his will. My tears led me to sleep. I held my head between my hands, and I surrendered to dreams. While I was sleeping, I felt an invisible hand touching my shoulder, and I heard a mysterious voice saying: You will remain consecrated. I woke up, looked around and outside the church and found no one….”
On the evening of that same day, she saw in her dreams three men, one monk with a white beard and a cane in his hand, a soldier in a combat garment, and an old man. The monk stepped in and poked her with his cane saying: “You will enter the Lebanese Maronite order”. “I woke up refreshed and joy filled”.
Sister Petra told Antoine Issa about her vision, who explained the dream saying: “ The soldier is St George, the patron of this church, the monk is St Anthony the Great, the founder of the monastic life”. The old man remained yet to be identified until Sister Petra entered the order of St Simon in Ayto and saw the picture of St Simon Skylight. There she recognized the old man in her dreams. Before her departure to Ayto, and entering the Lebanese Maronite order, Antoine Issa asked her to remain in Maad and fulfill her mission, providing her with money and lodging to ensure her living expenses. But she insisted to leave to Ayto. He then told her he will help enter the order and pay her dowry. And this is exactly what happened. Sister Petra entered St Simon Stylite monastery, in Ayto on July 12th1871. She wore the veil on August 25th1872 and was named Rafca.
The relashionship between Rafca and Maad villagers remained strong especially after Sister Takla and Mother Ursula entered the order. Under Mother Ursula leadership, St Joseph monastery was constructed in Jrebta in 1897. Till this day, this relationship between Rafca and Maad remains stronger than ever.
The number 7 played a symbolic and predominant role in the life of St Rafca. She was 7 years old when her mother died. After 7 years her aunt decided to marry her and after 7 years she decided to enter the maronite order. She spent 7 years in Ghazir, 7 years in Maad, and 14 years in St Simon-Ayto, before her battle with pain started. 14 years later at the beginning of the twentieth century she gave up her soul. She was beatified and canonized at the beginning of the third millennium. Even the small window above the main door of the church where she prayed had 7 corners….