St. Mary of Jesus Crucified
Galilee: The childhood
Mariam Baouardy was born on 5 January 1846 in Ibillin, a small village of Galilee, between Nazareth and Haifa, in a Greek-Melkite Catholic family. Before Mariam’s birth, her parents had seen twelve children die in infancy. In their deep sadness and confident in God, they had decided to make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to pray at the manger and to ask for the grace of a daughter. Finally Mariam was born and one year later her brother Boulos arrived.
But Mariam was not three years old when her father died, entrusting her to the care of St Joseph, then her mother a few days later. An aunt adopted Boulos and a rich uncle Mariam.
From her early years in Galilee, she remembered at once the wonder of the beauty of Creation, light and landscape, which spoke to her about God, and the strong sentiment that all things pass.
One childhood experience was decisive for her future life: she was playing with two little birds and she wanted to bath them… but they didn’t survive and died in her hand. She was very sad but she heard these words in her heart: “See all things pass, but if you would like to give me your heart, I will stay with you for ever.”
Mariam made her first Holy Communion at the age of 8. A little later, her uncle left for Alexandria with all the family.
In Egypt: Alexandria and the martyr
Mariam was 12 years old when she learnt that her uncle wished her to marry. Having already decided to give herself entirely to the Lord, she refused. Persuasions, threats, humiliations, ill treatment, nothing could change her mind. Three months later she went to an old servant of the family to send a letter to her brother, who was in Galilee, to get his help. When the servant, who was a Muslim, learned about her suffering, he advised her to give up her religion and convert. Mariam refused, so he angrily pulled out his sword and cut Mariam’s throat and then threw her into a little dark street. It was 8 September.
But Mariam’s time had not yet come. She woke up in a grotto. A young woman, who seemed to be a nun, took care of her, fed her and taught her for 4 weeks. When Mariam was healed, the young woman (later Mariam said that she was the Virgin Mary) led her to a church and left her.
From that day Mariam would go from one town to another (Alexandria, Jerusalem, Beirut, Marseille), working as a domestic servant. She preferred the poor families, to help them, leaving them when she felt she was too honoured.
But she will become also the witness of this invisible world in which we believe without seeing it, and that she experienced so strongly in this way.
In Marseille: Sisters of Saint Joseph
In 1865 she was in Marseille where she met the sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition. Although she was 19 years old, she looked only 12 or 13; she spoke very bad French and her health was also bad. But she was accepted into the noviciate and was very happy that she could finally give herself fully to the Lord. Always working hard, she spent most of her time in the kitchen or the laundry. But she relived every week the Passion of Jesus. She received the stigmata (but she was so simple that she believed it was an illness), and all kinds of extraordinary graces began to appear. Some sisters were quite disconcerted, and at the end of the two years of noviciate she was not admitted into the congregation. Eventually, she found her way to the Carmel of Pau, in south western France.
The Carmel of Pau
Mariam joined the Carmel of Pau in June 1867 and here she always found the love and understanding to sustain her in her sufferings. As a novice, she received the name of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified. She asked to become a lay sister, because she wanted to serve others and also she had difficulties in reading the Divine Office. Her simplicity and generosity won the heart of her sisters. Her words, when she came out of an ecstasy, are the fruit of her life: “Where is charity, there also is God. If you think to do good for your brother, God will think of you. If you make a hole for your brother, you will fall into it, it will be for you. But if you make heaven for your brother, it will be for you.”
The gift of prophecy, the attacks of the Devil or ecstasies… among all the many divine graces that she received there is, very deeply, the knowledge of her nothingness in front of God: when she called herself “the little nothing” it was really a profound expression of her being. That allowed her to penetrate the unreachable depth of divine mercy where she found her joy, her delight and life. “Humility is happy being nothing, she is not attached to anything, and she is never tired of nothing. She is glad, happy, always happy, satisfied in everything… Blessed are those who are small!” Here lies the source of her abandon among the most strange graces and the most disconcerting human circumstances.
The foundation of the Carmel of Mangalore (India)
Three years later, in 1870, she left with a small group to found the first Carmelite monastery in India, at Mangalore. The journey on the ship was an adventure and three nuns died before arriving. But other sisters were sent and at the end of 1870 the monastic life could began. The extraordinary experiences of Mariam continued without stopping her for the hard work and the troubles inherent to a new foundation. During her ecstasies, the sisters sometimes could see her in the kitchen or other places with a radiant face; sometimes she took part in spirit in the events of Church, for example persecutions in China; and sometime she seemed to be possessed by the Devil, but only exteriorly, causing her to live terrible torments and fights. That was the beginning of many misunderstandings in her community, and some of the sisters doubted the authenticity of her life. Nonetheless, at the end of her noviciate she made her vows on 21 November 1871; but the tensions finally made her return to Pau in 1872.
She return to Pau
Back in France, Mariam took again her simple life of lay sister, surrounded by the love of her sisters, and her soul was fulfilled. During some of her ecstasies, despite her illiteracy, but with the fervour of her gratitude towards God, she improvised poems of very great beauty, full of oriental delight and charm, in which the entire creation sings to his Creator. At other times, she was suddenly drawn to the top of a tree, upon a branch that could not support even a little bird, by the impetus soul towards the Lord. “Everyone is sleeping. And God so full of bounty, so great, so praiseworthy, is forgotten. No one thinks of Him. See, the whole nature praises him, the heavens, the stars, the threes, the grass, all things praise him; and man who knows his kindness, who should praiseHim, he sleeps. Let us go, let us go and wake the universe.”
Many people went to her for comfort, advice, prayers, returning enlightened and fortified from their meeting.
The foundation of the Carmel of Bethlehem
A short time after returning from Mangalore she began to speak about the foundation of a Carmel in Bethlehem. There were many obstacles but gradually they all disappeared, sometimes against all hope. Finally Rome gave permission and on 20 August 1875 a little group of Nuns set out on this adventure. The Lord guided Mariam in choosing the location and the design of the buildings. As the only Arabic speaker among the sisters, she oversaw the works “diving into the sand and the lime.” The community began to live in the convent from 21 November 1876, as some works continued.
She also prepared for the foundation of a Carmel in Nazareth. She went there to buy a site in August 1878. During this journey she had a vision of the location of Emmaus, which was then purchased for the Carmel by Berthe Dartigaux.
Upon returning to Bethlehem she watched over the works; the heat was very tiring. She fell down in the stairs and broke an arm while bringing drinks to the workers. Gangrene quickly set in and Mariam died a few days later, on 26 August 1878, aged just 32 years.
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 13 November 1983.
Mariam and the Holy Spirit
Mariam opens us to this invisible world which is so near to us and which is full of mercy. She teaches us to invest all of our lives in “that which never passes”, the only thing that really matters, God.
The fight against all the powers of evil is still underway. Blessed Mariam, who is known to many as the “Patron of Peace” for the Holy Land, encourages us to let us transformed by the Lord: so we can become ourselves workers in this transfiguration of the world by the grace of God. As a witness of an already transfigured world, she reminds us of the first day of Creation when heavens and earth were not yet separated, but only the light and the dark: that day One, which reflected the divine Unity, where all things are radiant from this unity. And justly, Mariam was very much attracted by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who was moving over the waters, at the beginning of Creation.
She leaves us this Spirit as our inheritance, because, when he comes to take the place of our selfish selves, he transfigures all things. He is “creating anew” (Is. 43).
“Address yourselves to the Holy Spirit who inspires all things”.
The self loses the world. The people who have the ‘self’ bring sorrow and anger with them. We cannot have God and the world together. The people who do not have the ‘self’ have all the virtues, peace and joy.” And with the Holy Spirit, even ‘only a drop’ all things are possible. “Source of peace, light, come to enlighten me; I am ignorant, come to teach me…The disciple were very ignorant. They were with Jesus and they didn’t understand Jesus… When you gave them a ray of light, the disciples disappeared, they were no longer as they were, their power was renewed…
Holy Spirit, I abandon myself to you.”
Holy Spirit, inspire me.
Love of God, consume me,
To the true path lead me.
Mary my Mother, look down upon me,
With Jesus, bless me,
From all evil, from all illusion,
From all danger, preserve me.