We decided to stay a couple of nights at the Victory Byblos Hotel in order to recover from the exertion of hiking in the Qadisha Valley, but found that we weren’t as ‘wasted’ as we thought we would be. The manager of the hotel was extremely friendly, and he had plenty of time for us seeing that it was the off-season and there were few other guests. We told him about visiting the monasteries on our hike and he mentioned that there was a large monastery about a half-hour’s drive from Byblos, up in the mountains. The monastery was dedicated to a saint who was attributed with miraculous healing powers. It was raining and there wasn’t much else to do, so we decided to make the drive and get some fresh air.
The man who later became known as St. Charbel, was born to a humble family in the mountains of Lebanon. He died in the late 1800s, but people who prayed to him were reporting unexplained healing. His coffin was opened, in the presence of a medical doctor, in 1951, and it was discovered that his body had not decayed. He continued to be attributed with miracles with testaments coming from all over the world. The museum in the monastery has dozens of crutches donated by the faithful who no longer require them to walk.
I was reminded of our visit to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, where there is a shrine to a monk who is supposed to have healed hundreds of believers. We visited the shrine with my brother David, and his wife Jeong Ae, last year, and Jeong Ae, raised as a Catholic in Korea, was over the moon to be able to visit such a holy place. She had heard about this shrine before she married and moved to Canada, and couldn’t quite believe that she was actually there.
I remembered that Jeong Ae was really thrilled to buy a small bottle and have it filled with holy water. I decided to get one for her here as well, and was given several bags of holy oil, incense, and a small square of Holy cloth to give to anyone who is suffering a serious illness. The monastery seemed to be a very spiritual place, though it was a little disconcerting to see the clothes that the monk was dressed in when he was buried, bloodstains and all. We were given some candles and Anil and I lighted them and said a quiet prayer for all those that we know, who are fighting cancer and AIDS.
We’re not really religious, but we make a point to visit the Hindu temples in India, the Buddhist temples in Thailand and Sri Lanka, and the mosques in Muslim countries, so it seemed only natural that we would say a prayer in a Christian monastery when we visited it. There’s no harm in covering all the bases.