Saint Rafqa

The Life of Saint Rafqa (1832-1914) - Feast day: March 23

Rafqa was born in Himlaya, Lebanon on June 29, 1832, on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. She was baptized as Boutrossieh (the feminine version of Peter in Arabic). She was the only child of her parents. Her mother died when she was 7 years old, and her father struggled financially. He sent Boutrossieh away to work as a servant for 4 years in Damascus. When she returned home she found her father had remarried. At 14, her stepmother and her aunt were arranging for her to marry, but she did not want to marry. She wished to become a nun and went straight to the Convent of Our Lady of Liberation at Bikfaya. Her father and stepmother tried to persuade her to come back home, but she refused and asked the mistress of novices to excuse her from seeing them. She agreed. Her father and stepmother returned home and never saw her again. On February 9, 1855, on the feast of St. Maron, Boutrossieh commenced her novitiate (the period of training and preparing someone for the religious life) at the convent in Ghazir. She took her temporary vows on March 19, 1862. She was assigned to be in charge of the kitchen service in the Jesuit school at Ghazir, where she spent seven years. In 1860, some Jesuit priests invited Boutrossieh and another nun to assist them in their mission in the village of Deir El Kamar. It was a time of civil unrest. One day while walking the streets, she noticed a little Maronite boy being chased by Ottoman soldiers, wanting to kill him. Boutrossieh hid him under her religious robe. Civil unrest made it dangerous to remain and forced Boutrossieh back to Ghazir. She founded a school at the request of Antoun Issa. He wanted her to come to his town to educate the girls. This school grew to have up to 60 girls, and Boutrossieh stayed there for 7 years, fulfilling this mission. 

After the Marian Order which Boutrossieh belonged to was dissolved, she made the decision to join the Baladite Order, the Maronite monastic order now known as the Lebanese Maronite Order, founded in 1695, and become a cloistered nun rather than a teaching sister. She entered the convent of St. Simon in Aitou. In 1872 she took her perpetual vows of obedience, chastity and poverty and took the name Rafqa (Rebecca in Arabic) after her mother. She was an example to her fellow sisters: she was always in prayer, and was silent in hard work. The sisters worked manual labour, harvesting vegetables and grain. They also cultivated silkworms and sewed vestments for the churches. After 14 years at this convent, Sr. Rafqa felt that she was called to bigger sacrifices. She asked to be closer to God and to share in Jesus’ passion. God answered her prayers immediately. That night she felt a terrible headache which quickly spread to her eyes. She suffered this way silently for 12 years, and it caused her to lose her sight. Her superior sent her to be examined by many doctors, all of which concluded they could not do anything to help her. An American physician was consulted and he decided that surgery was necessary for Rafqa. Rafqa refused anesthetics, and instead offered up the pain. During the surgery the doctor accidently pulled her whole eye out. Rafqa didn’t complain, instead she continued to pray, repeating “I join my sufferings to yours, my Jesus.” Rafqa even thanked the doctor after his mistake. The pain was in her left eye, and surgery did not help, gradually she became blind and her eyes continued to hemorrhage. She did not let this suffering isolate her from the other sisters. Rafqa continued to work, spinning wool and cotton and knitting stockings for the other sisters and participating in prayer.

One day Rafqa notified the Mother Superior of great pain in her waist. Her body was weakening and she was eventually bedridden, although she was still able to use her hands and she thanked God for this as she used her hands to work. Although she was blind, crippled and suffered unbearable pain in her body, St. Rafqa always thanked God for making her a part of his divine pains. Three days before her death, Rafqa said, “I am not afraid of death which I have waited for a long time. God will let me live through my death.” Then on March 23, 1914, four minutes after receiving final absolution and the plenary indulgence, she passed away, and was buried in the convent’s cemetery under the oak trees. She served God for 81 years. She was beatified on June 10, 2001 by Pope St. John Paul II. We remember St. Rafqa as a remarkable woman who lived a humble life. Although she suffered, she never complained and continued to give thanks for the opportunity to share in Christ’s passion. We ask for the intercession of St. Rafqa for all those who are suffering. May the Lord comfort them. Like St Rafqa may we be able to join our suffering with Jesus’ suffering on the cross.

Prayer through the intercession of St. Rafqa:

O Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, you impressed St. Rafqa's life so much that she became the teacher, the worker, the praying nun and your partner in the Mystery of Redemption. We ask you, through St. Rafqa's intercession and prayers, to bless the children; to enlighten the youths; to transform people's hard work and sufferings into blessings; to grant the graces of recovery, joy and happiness to sick people and to respond to the prayers of those, gathered in your name in churches and monasteries. O Lord as you graced Rafqa with eternal life's blessings, allow us to live like her in faith, hope, and love so that we may glorify you and thank you with her and the Virgin Mary and all the Saints in heaven, forever and ever. Amen.


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