Blessed Mariam Baouardy, a Melkite/Greek Catholic Palestinian who miraculously survived being throat-slashed by a jihadist as a teenager, through the intervention of the Virgin Mary, is going to be canonized as a saint on Sunday. Her religious name was “Sr. Marie of Jesus Crucified.”
She was born in 1846 and died in 1878. She had a very eventful life, traveling from Galilee to Alexandria, Egypt; from there to Jerusalem; from Jerusalem to Marseilles, France; from Marseilles to Pau, where she became a Carmelite; from Pau to Mangalore, India (where she helped found a convent); and eventually back to the Holy Land, where she helped found convents in Nazareth and Bethlehem.
She did all this after resisting an arranged marriage to an uncle, because she felt she was called to serve Jesus and not a husband. She is also one of the few saints who has been a member of both Eastern and Western rites of Catholicism. She had a deep spirituality of devotion to the Holy Spirit.
She was a great mystic and lifelong ecstatic. During the course of her life, she had visions, met an angel and St. Joseph, received the stigmata, and levitated. As one would expect if one has read lives of the saints, this caused her a lot of trouble with her religious sisters. In fact, she wasn’t allowed to get out of the novitiate by the first convent which admitted her, after having a hard time finding even one that would take her in. (And to be fair, actives have different requirements than contemplatives. Fortunately, the Carmelites were more open to kids with visions.) She also never got very good with her French. Her great friend in the religious life was another girl who was different, an English convert from Anglicanism. But thanks to her experience working as a servant, she was very patient and resourceful. She died calmly and prayerfully despite extreme pain.
St. Marie of Jesus Crucified, pray for us!
In her isolation from her uncle’s family [after refusing the arranged marriage and being sent out to earn her keep as a servant], she turned to a Muslim servant to have him deliver her letter to Nazareth. For his part, the young man encouraged Mariam to reveal her personal troubles. He became outraged at her uncle’s treatment of her and played upon the mind and feelings of the young girl. He introduced conversion to Islam as a remedy to Mariam’s problems. His words and actions focused young Mariam directly upon her Christianity. However, she soon realized the young man’s true intentions, and this caused her to draw back. She denied his advances and loudly proclaimed her faith in the Church of Jesus. “Muslim, no, never! I am a daughter of the Catholic Church, and I hope by the grace of God to persevere until death in my religion, which is the only true one.”
Her so-called protector, furious at being rejected by this young Christian, became violent. Eyes flashing with hatred, he lost control and kicked her to the floor. He then drew his sword and slashed her throat. Thinking her dead, he dumped her bloody body in a nearby dark alley. It was the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 8, 1858. What followed was a strange and beautifully moving story, told years later by Mariam to her Mistress of Novices at Marseilles, France:
“A nun dressed in blue picked me up and stitched my throat wound. This happened in a grotto somewhere. I then found myself in heaven with the Blessed Virgin, the angels and the saints. They treated me with great kindness. In their company were my parents. I saw the brilliant throne of the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ in His humanity. There was no sun, no lamp, but everything was bright with light. Someone spoke to me. They said that I was a virgin, but that my book was not finished.”
She then found herself once again in the grotto with the “nun dressed in blue.” How long did Mariam remain in this secret shelter? She later spoke of one month, but she was not sure. One day, the unknown nurse prepared some soup for her that was so delicious that she greedily asked for more, and all her life she was to remember the taste of this heavenly soup. On her deathbed she was heard to say tenderly, “She made me some soup! Oh, such good soup! There I was a long time, looking, and never ate soup like that. I have the taste in my mouth. She promised me that at my last hour, she will give me a little spoonful of it.”
Toward the end of her sojourn in the grotto, the nurse in blue outlined for Mariam her life`s program, “You will never see your family again, you will go to France, where you will become a religious. You will be a child of St. Joseph before becoming a daughter of St. Teresa. You will receive the habit of Carmel in one house, you will make your profession in a second, and you will die in a third, at Bethlehem.”
The scar on her neck remained the rest of her life. It was confirmed during Mariam’s illnesses by the doctors and nurses at Marseille, as well as at Pau, Mangalore, and finally at Bethlehem. This scar measured 10 cm in length and 1 cm in width, and marked the whole front of the neck, the skin there was finer and whiter. Several cartilaginous rings of the tracheal artery were missing, as the doctors at Pau attested June 24, 1875. The Mistress of Novices was to write:
“A celebrated doctor at Marseille, who had taken care of Mariam, had confessed that, although he was an atheist, there must be a God, for from a natural point of view, she could not have lived.”
As a result of this deep cut Mariam`s voice was always hoarse. The martyrdom of the little Arab had not been a dream, it remained inscribed in her flesh.
Mariam herself later wrote:
“After my wound was healed I then had to leave the grotto and the Lady took me to the Church of St. Catherine served by the Franciscan Friars. I went to confession. When I left, the Lady in Blue had disappeared.”
Mariam never saw her aunt and uncle again. They knew nothing of the tragedy and they thought that Mariam had run away to escape the ill treatment and to perhaps to become a nun. They had every interest in keeping silence about their adopted child, as she could only bring them dishonor by her refusal to marriage.
She was only thirteen and was now on her own. At first she supported herself by working as a domestic servant. An Arab Christian family named Najjar hired her to work for them. They gave her food, room and a small salary.. She lived as one of the poor, with just one dress, and her salary was given to the poor, except for a few piastres to provide oil for the little lamp that burned before an icon of the Blessed Virgin. Her spare time she devoted to the less fortunate.
Hoping to see her brother, and especially desiring to walk in the footsteps of the Lord and to visit His holy places, after about a year she left and joined a caravan that was heading for Jerusalem.