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Rafqa de Himlaya, St.


Maronite nun; also called Rebecca ar-Rayyes, "The Little Flower of Lebanon," and the "Purple Rose"; b. Himlaya (near Bikfaya, Mten), Lebanon, June 29, 1832;d. Grabta, March 23?, 1914. Born on the feast of St. Peter, her parents named her Boutrosiya ("Petronilla"). Following her mother's death in 1838, Petra's father, Mourad Saber Shabaq al-Rayes, remarried (1841). Petra lived and worked as a domestic in Syria, 184347.

When it was time to decide her future, her stepmother wanted her to marry her brother (Petra's step-brother), and an aunt, to marry her son (Petra's cousin). While the women quarreled, Petra became a Maryamat postulant at the convent of Our Lady of Rescue at Bikfaya. Upon Petra's acceptance as a novice, Feb. 9, 1855, she was given the name Anissa ("Agnes").

She was sent to a convent in Ghazir where, while working in the kitchen, she learned to read and write in her spare time. Later she studied at Bait-Shahib, Shuwayr, Hammana, and elsewhere. She was teaching at Dair al-Qamar during the massacre of Christians (1860). When the monastery was attacked, she saved a Christian boy being pursued by armed soldiers by throwing her cloak over him to hide him.

In 1871 her order was united with another to form the Order of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Each sister was offered the choice of staying or leaving. After prayer Sister Anissa decided to become a nun in the ascetic Baladiya Order of the Maronites at Saint Simon Convent at ElQarn, where she was known as Boutrosiya from Himlaya. At the time she made her perpetual vows, Aug. 25, 1873, she chose the name Rafqa ("Rebecca"), after her saintly mother.

Sister Rafqa was transferred in 1897 to the convent, Mar Youssef adDaher (Saint Joseph of Grabta). Under obedience to her new superior Mother Doumit, Rafqa related the story of her life. She told how in 1885 after praying to share in Christ's suffering, she began to suffer loss of sight and a crippling bone disease. By 1907 Sister Rafqa was totally blind, paralyzed, and in constant pain, but in spite of her cross she remained full of joy until her death seven years later. Rafqa was buried at Saint Joseph of Grabata where she died.

Sister Rafqa was beatified in Rome, Nov. 17, 1985, by Pope John Paul II. Following the acceptance of the required miracle on July 1, 2000, Rafqa was canonized as the first female saint of Lebanon on June 10, 2001.

Feast: Nov. 17 (Maronites); March 23.

Bibliography: f. m. zayek, Rafka, the Blind Mystic of Lebanon (Still River, Mass. 1980).

[r. abou moussa]

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