Religious relics have inspired believers and pilgrims of various faiths for centuries. Today, Norman’s Our Lady Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church will play host to the relics of Lebanon’s St. Charbel Makhlouf. The relics traveled from Lebanon and are touring the U.S., but today and Thursday mark the relics’ last stop in Oklahoma.
Music Director Jeremy Wance said it’s a rare opportunity to connect with the divine and an opportunity that’s especially fitting in the wake of last week’s Beirut bombing. Lebanon is the only majority Christian country in the Middle East. Through St. Charbel, Wance said Lebanese Christians can tell more of their story and share their version of the faith.
“It all stretches back to the time of Christ and the apostles. Back then, it was said that if you took a piece of cloth that touched one of them and took it back to someone who was sick, they would be healed. So, going back to the very beginning, there’s still the belief that the relics of a saint bring you closer to the eternal.”
Unlike the Shroud of Turin, the mystery-laden burying cloth of Christ, whose authenticity is less than certain, the bones of St. Charbel Makhlouf are verifiably authentic.
“This is actually him,” Wance said. “Many pilgrims would go to pray in the presence of relics for healing. It’s also a glimpse into the Lebanese Christian culture. They’re their own branch of the Catholic church, so they’re a little bit different."
While relics are a vestige reaching back to the ancient Greeks, they still hold power for some believers.
One Norman woman said she was healed by oil from St. Charbel after bruises appeared on her body. According to Rose Hill’s story, doctors couldn’t figure out the cause of her bruises. When she applied the oil to them and took a shower, the bruises disappeared. She said it was a miracle.
“We had a miracle here in Norman with a lady here who was sick and she was healed. He does miracles all over the world,” Our Lady of Lebanon parish council member Gloria Abou-Nassar said. “(Hill) was sick and she was healed by St. Charbel. One of our parishioners, who is a nurse, heard about St. Charbel and asked for some oil from St. Charbel for her friend … The doctors didn’t know what was going on … So, she took the oil and prayed for her friend.”
Abou-Nassar called it a miracle, but even without a miracle, she said seeing the bones of St. Charbel is an incredible opportunity.
“St. Charbel is well known all over the world,” Abou-Nassar said. “Instead of people going to St. Charbel’s shrine to visit, now St. Charbel is visiting us.
Charbel Makhlouf was born in Lebanon in 1828. After his ordination, the priest-monk lived and served in the monastery of St. Maroun Annaya for 19 years. In 1875, he was granted permission to live as a solitary monk in a nearby hermitage dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. Rigorous asceticism and a profound union with God continued to characterize the monk's life for the next 23 years. He was canonized in 1977 by Pope Paul VI at the end of Vatican II.
The relics, including St. Charbel’s bones, arrive at 1 p.m. today and will make their way to Texas on Friday. Visitors will get the chance to take home holy water, oil and incense from St. Charbel's shrine. All visitors are welcome.
For more information, visit maroniteok.org.