Beirut (AsiaNews) – A blind woman has been healed in Phoenix, Arizona, thanks to the intercession of Saint Charbel (Sharbel) Makhlouf (8 May 1828-24 December 1898). Thus, the reputation of miracle worker of the hermit of Annaya (Lebanon) is spreading around the world, or at least, wherever fate has taken the Maronites, scattered by the winds of their turbulent history.
The city of Phoenix, capital of the US state of Arizona, has been the scene of one of those amazing miracles whose secret only Saint Charbel knows: the healing of a Hispanic American woman, 30-year-old Dafne Gutierrez, mother of three, who had lost her eyesight to Arnold-Chiari malformation.
Phoenix is a city with a large Lebanese community, mostly Maronite. The local Maronite church is dedicated to Saint Joseph and Masses are celebrated in three languages: Arabic, Spanish and English. Saint Joseph Maronite Catholic Church is the hub of one of the 36 Maronite parishes in the United States, divided between the two big dioceses of New York and Los Angeles.
The relic of Saint Charbel, who has toured the various parishes since early October 2015, consists of a bone sample kept in a cedar chest. This pilgrimage marks the 50th anniversary of the beatification of the great Lebanese. The pastor of Saint Joseph, Wissam Akiki, had publicised as much as he could the relatively short visit (15-17 January 2016) the relic had to make in his parish, which coincided with a retreat for priests in the presence of the Maronite Bishop of Los Angeles, Mgr Elias Abdallah Zeidane.
Diagnosed with Arnold–Chiari malformation at the age of 13, Dafne Gutierrez over the years developed papilledema (swelling of the optic disc swelling) at the end of the optic nerve. Surgery to correct the malformation had proved unhelpful. In the fall of 2014, she lost the use of her left eye, which had gradually weakened a year earlier. In November 2015, the right eye was also lost, which plunged her into total darkness that even sunlight failed to break when she looked at it directly. A medical report eventually concluded that her blindness was irreversible and that she required permanent medical assistance. Ms Gutierrez even envisaged moving to a residence for the blind, so as not to be a burden on her family.
Over the weekend of the 16th and 17th January, motivated by Fr Akiki’s posters, relatives encouraged Ms Gutierrez to ask for healing. One of them took her to the priest on Saturday, 16 January. "I put my hand on her head, then on both eyes, and I asked God to heal her through the intercession of St Charbel,” the clergyman said with much fuss. On Sunday, Dafne and her family attended Mass and then went home.
On the morning of the 18th, the inexplicable healing occurred. Around 5 am, Dafne woke up with severe itching in the eyes and the feeling of pressure on her skull and eye sockets. She awoke her husband, who detected a strong burning smell in the room. He switched on the light, but then switched it off very quickly, at his wife’s request because it bothered her. Then in the glow of a nightlight, she told him, amazed, that she could see. "I can see you. I can see you with my own eyes," she said. At the same time, she felt a strong pressure on the skull and eyes, like after an operation. She put her hand to her head, on the right side, as if there were an injury. One can imagine the rest. "I cannot believe it. I did not want to close my eyes,” she said. “My children were shouting: ‘Mom can see! God healed mom!’”
"Three days later, an ophthalmologic examination noted the miraculous healing. By then, five doctors had already examined Dafne Gutierrez, including one ophthalmologist of Lebanese origin, Dr Jimmy Saade. The healing defies scientific explanation.
According to her doctor, he had not seen such healing in his forty years of practice. "No way! No way!” he kept repeating, as he read the report in front of him. The optical disc, the report said, shows no sign of the Papilledema. To avoid any doubts, a complete medical check-up is underway to understand better the case and fully document the inexplicable nature of the healing. The goal is also to verify whether the miracle includes the correction of the malformation causing blindness, as suggested by the feeling of pressure Dafne Gutierrez feels on the skull "as if it were part of an operation."
Popular faith does not have such scruples. News of the healing of a blind woman in Phoenix spread like wildfire and made it on US and Mexican regional TV channels. As a result, thousands of visitors began arriving at Saint Joseph Church, whose pastor wisely set aside a special intercession day on the 22nd of each month, like in Annaya, since the amazing healing of Nohad El Shami (22 January 1993).
After touring the United States, the reliquary of St Charbel, was brought back to the Maronite Diocese of Our Lady of Lebanon in Los Angeles, following two final stops in Detroit, where the local Chaldean community honoured it, and Miami (Florida).