The Priceless Gift of Blessed Jacques of Ghazir

On this 25th day of June, we as Capuchins jubilantly celebrate the feast day of Blessed Jacques of Ghazir. This great Lebanese Capuchin is truly a gem within the history of our Order not only in dear Lebanon but also where the Capuchins went, are and will be.

His name was Yaaqub El-Haddad, the third out of eight children within the family of Boutros Haddad and Shams Haddad. Yaaqub was born in Ghazir, (غزير), a town as well as municipality in the Keserwan District of the Keserwan-Jbeil Governorate of Lebanon, which lies some 27 kilometres (17 mi) north of Beirut. Born on the first day of February 1875, he received baptism in the Maronite church in Ghazir on 21st of the month in 1875 and was given the Christian name Khalil (meaning a friend which can be derived from Khalīlullāh ‘friend of God’ such as the honorific title given to the prophet Ibrahim or Abraham).

After finishing high school education in Beirut at the age of sixteen, the young Khalil emigrated to Alexandria where he was deeply touched by the death of a Capuchin Friar, prompting him to enter the Capuchin novitiate, where he was given the name Jacques. Brother Jacques received his priestly ordination on All Saints, the 1st of November, 1901 in Beirut. Fittingly, for the life of Blessed Jacque was a beautiful summary and charism of the life of various saints taken together. In the Circular Letter of the Capuchin Minister General, Br. Mauro Jöhri OFM Cap of 9 June 2008, (Prot. N. 00455/08), he wrote of Brother Jacques: Who was Abuna Jacques? For many of us, his name may mean little or nothing. But in his own country he is recognised as a giant in charity. The “Great builder”, the “Apostle of the Cross”, the “Saint Vincent de Paul of Lebanon”, the “New Cottolengo”, the “New Don Bosco” – these are titles that the Lebanese – both Christian and Muslim – have used to identify him, to pray to him, to acknowledge his humanity and his holiness.

Brother Jacques’ unfailing sources for his intense apostolic as well as charitable missions were the Eucharist and the Cross – from the strength these gave him, he proved an indefatigable worker in the Lord’s vineyard, especially as an itinerant preacher within the Lebanese territory proclaiming God’s Word. The Apostle of Lebanon, as he was rightly called, managed to preach in Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Turkey. Br Mauro Jöhri OFM Cap tells us of him in his Circular Letter: His specific charism was preaching. He prepared his sermons at night in front of the Blessed Sacrament. We have more than eight thousand pages of Abuna Jacques’ writings. He preached in Syria, Iraq and Palestine. In Beirut he founded the Franciscan Third Order, which later spread throughout Lebanon. He will have the joy of going to Lourdes, Assisi and Rome where he met Pope Saint Pius X.  Aware of the importance of the press, he founded the monthly magazine “The Friend of the Family.”

We find this tireless apostle of the Lord assisting the sick in 1920, when he founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Cross of Lebanon. Thirteen years after, in 1933, Brother Jacques opened the House of the Sacred Heart in Deir el‐Kamar. This was a girls’ orphanage which later evolved into an asylum for the chronically ill patients. In 1948 he also opened the Hospital of Our Lady for old people, the chronically ill, and the paralyzed. His work in the Lord’s vineyard was recognized when in 1949 Saint Joseph’s Hospital became one of the most important hospitals in Beirut. A year later, in 1950, Brother Jacques also opened Saint Anthony’s House in Beirut specifically for beggars and vagabonds alike who were found lying on the streets as well as Providence House for homeless girls.  Notwithstanding the hectic hospital mission, Brother Jacques and his Sisters kept working on vital work within the educational field. In fact, he opened many schools together with an orphanage for some 200 girls.

In his Circular Letter Br Mauro Jöhri presents to us a fascinating account of the incredible activity done by this great Apostle of Lebanon, Blessed Jacques.

Abuna Jacques’ love for suffering humanity characterised the course of his entire life. He founded Saint Francis’ school at Jall-Eddib (1919) today known as “Val Père Jacques” at Bkennaya (1979); the Hospital at Dier El-Qamar (1933) for handicapped girls; the Convent of Our Lady of the Well at Bkennaya (1941), including the General House, the postulancy, the novitiate and the guest house for spiritual retreats for priests, religious sisters and prayer groups; the Hospital of Our Lady at Antélias (1946) for the chronically ill and the elderly; also, Saint Joseph’s Hospital at Dora (1948) located in a populated quarter; the school of the Sisters of Cross at Brummana (1950) that welcomes orphan children or victims of material or moral poverty; the Hospice of Christ the King at Zouk-Mosbeh (1950) situated on a hill overlooking the coast road to Byblos, and surmounted by a twelve metre high statue of Christ the King. Providence, Abuna Jacques’ companion of the road, never abandoned him and is still an everyday guest among his sisters.

In 1951 the Hospital of the Cross was dedicated exclusively to the care of mental illness. Today it is the largest psychiatric complex in the Middle East, with a university and academic centre, and with more than 1000 patients, 54% of whom are non-Christian. The Hospital of the Cross welcomes patients from any religion with the spirit of mercy that distinguishes the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross of Lebanon: “We are like the spring that never asks the thirsty person: ‘First tell me which country you are from, otherwise I will not let you drink.’”

Brother Jacques was literally worn out by the extensive vigils, fatigue, and travel. Even if he suffered from many diseases, became almost completely blind, and had leukemia, he did not stop blessing God and kept working till the end, with full lucidity of mind and soul. His last hours were an uninterrupted series of prayers invoking the Cross and the Virgin Mary until he passed away on 26thJune 1954 in Lebanon. It as Sunday 22nd June 2008, when he was beatified during a special Mass in Beirut led by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins C.M.F., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

In a powerful reflection from his writings called Ecoutez ma voix, Br Jacques shared to us his deep-seated thoughts on the essential topic of universal charity. He wrote: As light streams from the sun, so does love of neighbour flow from love of God. Our neighbour is the child of God, the image of God, the beloved of God. Like us, he has the right to inherit heaven and, if he is in the state of grace, he is the home of the Blessed Trinity.

We must love our neighbour out of love for God. The hunter hunts, not for love of hunting but on account of his prey. It is not his book that the scholar loves, but knowledge. So, we too should love our neighbour because we love God. Love’s object is two-fold: God and neighbour. In reality there is one single object: God and His image. If you want to be loved, start by loving.

Be sure that we never love our neighbour as we should as long as we do not see God in our neighbour. Be sure that we never love our neighbour as we should as long as our charity stops short at certain people and excludes others. Be sure that we never love our neighbour as we should, as long as any of our neighbour’s faults keep us at a distance from him. And just as a person who denies a single point of dogma has lost his faith, so to hate a single person means that you have lost charity.

Charity has to be universal, which means we have to love everyone, because all are children of God; all have been redeemed by the Saviour’s precious Blood; all are temples of the Spirit; all are called to praise God in heaven for all eternity. The human race is one family.

God gives us an example. He makes his sun rise on good and evil alike. His Son died for all men and women. The Holy Spirit gives his grace to everyone, as long as they do not refuse it. He founded the Church for the sake of the entire universe, not for one country in particular. Let us imitate the sun. Let us imitate the fountain. It does not say to a thirsty man: Before I give you a drink, tell me what country you come from!

May our heart be gentle, Christ‐like, towards the wretched and those who suffer. May they be to us sons and daughters. How sweet this service, how precious this life, when it is consecrated to the love of God and of neighbour, His visible image on earth.

Almighty God and Father, you made Blessed Jacques, your priest, zealous for the Gospel and fervent in charity for those in distress. Through his example and intercession, may we be wholly dedicated to the service of our neighbour. We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Blessed Jacques of Għazir, God’s most humble and tireless servant for His Kingdom, people pray for us!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.