02/19/2004, 00.00
LEBANON – VATICAN
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Third Lebanese saint to be canonized, loved even by Druze and Muslim people

Beirut (AsiaNews) – John Paul II announced that the Lebanese Blessed Nimatullah al-Hardini (1808 – 1858) will be canonized next May 16 together with 5 other saints (Fr. Orione; Fr. Hannibal M. of France; Fr. Joseph Manyanet y Vives; Paola Elisabetta and Gianna Beretta Molla). Blessed al Hardini had the name Youssef  (Joseph) Kassab when he was born in Hardine (in Batrun county in north-central Lebanon). From  1816-1822 he attended Houb, the school belonging to the St. Anthony's Monastery of the Lebanese Maronite order.

In 1828 he became a seminarian at St. Anthony's Monastery in Kozhaya, choosing the name Br. Nimatullah ("Grace of God"). He took solemn vows on Nov. 14 1830. After he finished his religious studies, he was ordained a priest in Kfifane on Dec. 25 1833.      

He was three times the vice-superior of the Lebanese Maronite order (1845-1848; 1850-1853; e 1856-1858). He taught theology at the order's main seminary, with Lebanese saint Charbel Makhlouf being one of his students. He dedicated his life to teaching, binding books, tailoring clothes, pastoral work in parishes and to prayer.He spent many entire days and nights adoring the Blessed Sacrament, was devoted to Mary and constantly prayed the rosary.

He died of stomach cancer at the Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justin on 14 Dec. 1858 in Kfifane. 

Like Mother Teresa, Al Hardini was said to be a man of faith and miracles –even by non-Christians.

Among the miracles attributed to the future saint was one which happened to a Druze woman. Fr. Georges Rahme, a Maronite monk, professor of philosophy and eastern civilization at the University of Lebanon and author of several books, told AsiaNews the story: "Once a Druze woman went Al-Hardini's tomb and left the body of her third child atop his grave.  She was desperate since her children died just after they were born. After leaving the little corpse at the site of his tomb she went outside the monastery's church to cry. Before getting too far she heard one of the brothers shout that there was a new-bon left in the church and was crying. The Druze infant had resurrected from the dead!" 

Fr. George Rahme, who teaches also at Segesse University, explained further to AsiaNews:"Al-Hardini overcame the idea of saintliness which is far from the lives of ordinary people. Al-Hardini was a monk who lived among his fellow religious and in society. He was not a hermit like St. Charbel."

"He was rather like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, living among ordinary people and bearing witness to Christ's love for humanity. He was a teacher, a confessor and went out to visit people in the very homes. He was a person who sacrificed himself for others. He ate only one meal a day. He lived and became holy living in society and among people. Al-Hardini used to always say: 'Every time I meet someone I get ever closer to perfection' –and he said it because he saw Christ in them."  

Alecco Habib, a lay Catholic Lebanese man and professor of marketing at the University of Lebanon, told AsiaNews: "Faith means everything to us Christians in the East. Everything is unstable in life except faith. After have seeing all our hopes from earthly freedom, peace and justice crumble over the years, God sends us messages through the saints who have lived here on earth: they are people whom we've never met but nevertheless are examples of prayer and faith to us."

"Following the example of our saints we hope to reach at least a thousandth of their level of holiness. Each time the St. Peter's canonizes a Lebanese man or woman our faith is strengthened. To be saints in today's society is not impossible. And St. Al-Hardini is proof of this. He used to say 'He who is intelligent is he who saves his own soul'." (PB)

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