Daily Star – BEIRUT: Miraculous, perhaps. Tens of thousands of Lebanese gathered in Martyrs Square in Downtown Beirut on Sunday to witness the beatification of Yaaqoub Haddad, the late Capuchin priest who gained fame for his prolific work in founding an order of nuns, expanding the Capuchin school network and conceiving or establishing a number of religious and social institutions, some of which have gained iconic status in Lebanon.  Haddad, who died more than 50 years ago, took a step toward sainthood in the first beatification ever to take place outside the Vatican – and people flocked to the capital to observe the ceremony.

The service itself was presided over by a representative of Pope Benedict XVI, and the head of the Vatican’s office for sainthood, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, in tandem with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.  Attended by a litany of Eastern Christian prelates, other clerics, international envoys and local political figures, the event also included the Lebanese political troika of President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.  Thunderous applause greeted Sleiman as he arrived minutes before the Mass, and ovations were repeated many times during the ceremony, which bestowed one of the highest honors in the Christian tradition upon a Lebanese priest mere meters away from an Ottoman-era mosque in the heart of the capital. Indeed, while respectful or appreciative clapping often arose, the loudest rounds of applause came after "the nation" or the "Lebanese cedars" were mentioned in one context or another.  A procession of the cross was held before Western Catholic – Latinized – renditions of Syriac and Arabic Christian chants held the massive gathering rapt. As Cardinal Martins read out a message from the pope, "hoping that this beatification will lift Father Yaaqoub of Ghazir as a happy servant of the Lord," a white veil cloaking a portrait of the late priest was lifted, symbolizing recognition of Haddad’s beatification.

"The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father," the Maronite patriarch said as he took the pulpit, evoking reverent silence through the assembled thousands. "The hope of so many Lebanese was realized today – that hope was the raising of Father Yaaqoub’s portrait above the altar of the Catholic Church."  Sfeir then outlined how Haddad "passed through the narrow door leading to sainthood," attributing the priest’s ability to walk "the difficult road of a saintly life to three virtuous practices: surrender to the will of God, Christian modesty and the work of mercy."  "Father Yaaqoub would say that ‘All God has given me belongs to Him and the poor of Lebanon," added Sfeir, in reference to his first point regarding the late pastor. "He built hospitals, schools and took care of the sick, yet he was a man of simple means – Father Yaaqoub put his trust in the grace of God."  Sfeir, describing the four "pillars of modesty" that characterized Haddad’s life, again quoted the priest, saying: "Do not bestow virtue upon yourself that is not present within you; credit the Lord for that which is good in us; do not praise yourself in the presence of others; and do not count the shortcomings of those close to you in order to raise yourself."

With the sun beating down on the packed city center and with Lebanese girl scouts handing out hats and bottled water, the patriarch closed by attributing Yaaqoub’s work of mercy to his love of mankind, saying that "the measure of love is to love without measure."

Applause and chatter followed Sfeir’s sermon but soon gave way to quiet laced with anticipation as an orchestra and choir provided a powerful undercurrent for the placing of testimonials at the altar. Intermittent cheers rose from the crowd as a key to the city of Ghazir, a copy of the Capuchin statutes, the late monk’s scapular and various other relics of Yaaqoub’s life were presented, but in another display of a distinct nationalist bent, roars of approval met the presentation of a young cedar as a symbol of the expansion of Haddad-founded institutions throughout Lebanon and abroad.

Once communion had been received, Sister Mary Makhlouf, who heads the Sisters of the Cross order of nuns, a network founded by Father Yaaqoub, capped the ceremony in a speech touching upon the broader meaning of the day. In the shadow of Mohammad al-Amin Mosque, the nun spoke of "seeing Jesus in Father Yaaqoub, overcoming the divisions, barriers and [narrower] affiliations in the nation that is a humanistic message."

The sister continued, as the crowd met nearly her every word with an ovation, saying that "sainthood is not a restriction, but a good turn … and can lead one to the message of salvation. It matters not who, where and how we are – we all need someone to love, to help and be helped by."

"This nation, whose concept was founded on the contact of cultures, must – no matter what the differences and difficulties facing us – serve as a model of coexistence," she said. "The 17 communities that form this country should be a source of wealth, rather than discord … Lebanon should spread its wings like an eagle and shed light into the heart of darkness, as the sky is lit by the rising sun."

Sister Mary ended by expressing her hope that "the years spent for Lebanon and the Lebanese people in an appeal [to heaven] will be accepted, allowing Lebanon to remain."

A Step closer to sainthood

BEIRUT: The man who would become Abouna Yaaqoub Haddad Kabouchi – literally, Father Jacob Haddad the Capuchin – was born Khalil Haddad in the Kesrouan village of Ghazir in 1875. The young Haddad spent his childhood in Lebanon and Egypt before joining the seminary for theological studies at the age of 18, when he received the moniker "Brother Yaaqoub."

In 1998, a woman from the village of Maghdouche, about 5 kilometers southeast of Sidon, said Yaaqoub’s spirit cured her of a malignant tumor. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI officially attributed the miracle to the Lebanese priest.

Kabouchi was beatified on Sunday, making him one step closer to sainthood.

Beatification, which requires the recognition of one miracle, can be seen as allowing the Catholic faithful to pray to the soul in question for intercession, whereas canonization – the declaration of sainthood – makes obligatory a belief in the ability to intercede. – The Daily Star