Canonization of Lebanese monk Neamatallah Hardini
LCCC: Today at the Vatican Pope John Paul II will announce the canonization of Lebanon's monk, Neamatallah Hardini in the presence and full participation of His Beatitude Patriarch Sfier.
Meanwhile, thousands of Lebanese arrived at the Vatican from around the world to attend the ceremony. Up to 20,000 Lebanese will travel to the Vatican to attend the festivities, which are expected to last from May 15-18. Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said that the canonization was a "great event for the Lebanese people." He made the remark at the Beirut International Airport before flying to Rome and the Vatican to attend the canonization. Sfeir described the canonization as a "sign from heaven, indicating that God wanted to provide solace to the Lebanese people by sending them saints that have the means for raising their morale." Sfeir added that the canonization was also aimed at making people adopt the Christian faith and realize that God does not forsake them. Hardini is the third Maronite to attain sainthood after Charbel and Refka.

A canonization in North Lebanon
Tiny town of Hardine prepares for elevation of native son

By Mona Lisa Mouallem -Special to The Daily Star
Friday, May 14, 2004
HARDINE, Lebanon: Sitting comfortably atop a mountain in the rolling hills of North Lebanon, a tiny town named Hardine is readying itself for an historic event this Sunday: the canonization of one of its native sons.
And indeed, with only 15 houses, Hardine seems a perfect setting for the elevation of Neemattalah al-Hardini, a monk known for his humility and extraordinary acts of compassion.
From afar, the few red roofs of the town are dwarfed by the endless sea of uninhabited green terrain that seems to stretch for miles. As one approaches, however, and drives down the town's main road, the unfamiliar visitor is treated to an especially intimate view of the insides of every home; doors are wide open and residents wave warmly, if curiously, to each passing car.
In a house along the main road, Jamileh Nimr is sitting down, crouched over what seems like six pounds of parsley. She is gathering them in bunches, using her hands quickly and eagerly, smiling all the while.
"Our restaurant is receiving over 50 people tomorrow," she says proudly. "There is a lot of tabbouleh to be made."
The restaurant, called La Cave, is owned by both Jamileh and her husband Sarkis, though it is not their only eatery - not surprising, considering the town is famous for saying they have "a population of 200 in the summer and 20 in the winter."
But this month is indeed different for the quiet town. Jamileh, along with the rest of Hardine, is expecting to receive around 20,000 visitors in the next three weeks as the Roman Catholic Church officially canonizes Hardini, the third Lebanese native to receive sanctification from the Pope (Saint Charbel was canonized in 1977 and Saint Rafka received the honor in 2001).
Although this may not be an entirely new phenomenon for Lebanon, the occasion is all that Hardine has been talking about for the past several months. As the small town is the birthplace of the soon-to-be saint, naturally Hardine's residents could not be more proud to be connected to such a significant event.
"It's quite an honor to share a small village with ... a saint," said Annie Dib, a local resident. "We've been waiting for this day for years."
The principal celebrations of the weekend will actually take place in and around the Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justin, where Hardini's body lies, in the town of Kfifane - a 30-minute drive from Hardine.
Yet there will remain a strong connection between the two towns this weekend, as most of the 20,000-30,000 people expected to attend the ceremonies in Kfifane on Saturday and Sunday are also expected to continue the pilgrimage to Hardine, where they will visit the main attraction - the birthplace of the new saint.
It is pride and excitement, not anxiety, that overwhelms the residents of the small town when the topic of preparations is discussed.
"We are not a big village, nor are we many, but we will be ready to accommodate anyone and everyone that will pass through," says Jamileh.
During Hardini's beatification on May 18, 1996, the town certainly stood by this creed. Hundreds of visitors passed through the village on that day, as residents opened their kitchens, houses and town churches to anyone in need.
In anticipation of this year's crowds, the government has been especially generous with the city council in recent years. It has provided funds for paving the roads leading to Hardine, as well as for those which lie within the town itself. Many public figures and ministers have also offered the town generous individual donations, with an especially notable contribution coming from Joseph Saba, a native Hardinian and the director of the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa region.
This weekend, LBC will hold special live coverage of the mass in Hardine and set up screens so that those in attendance can also participate in the ceremonies occurring in Kfifane and in the Vatican. Over 200,000 Lebanese natives are expected to attend the ceremonies in Rome, including Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, with many of those flying to Rome expected to make a visit to Hardine in the coming weeks. Over 150 Hardinian immigrants are making the direct trip from Australia and America to Hardine for the weekend.
"One of the most special things about this is that, through this occasion, many of those that left will come back again," says Jreius Dib. "After all these years, we will be able to see one another and get together to celebrate such an important occasion."
The canonization of the monk will not only allow for immigrants to return, but from a tourism perspective, it will also certainly help to highlight the natural resources that Hardine boasts.
The town is an ancient one, the oldest Christian village in the North, with over 30 churches, monasteries and hermitages still standing. Hardine also has ancient ruins, dating back to the Roman era - ruins that many Lebanese scholars say are second in significance only to those in Baalbek. Due to the mountainous terrain and scenic views, Hardine's paths are also ideal for hiking.
"Hardine has always been a historic town, even before Hardini's arrival. But what was missing from Hardine was the reputation," says Joseph al-Mouallem, head of the press committee of Hardine. "This man, with all his modesty, put Hardine on a star list in Lebanon."
Father Edmond Khoushan, head of the church in Hardine, hopes that the town's exposure will open doors for improvements, such as a restoration of some of the ancient ruins and religious sites, a remodeling of the roads and an the establishment of a local monastic order to tend to the matters of the saint. Father Khoushan also hopes that the financial well-being of the town's residents will improve.
"It is a poor town," said Khoushan. "I hope that the exposure will allow for many of the residents to gain new jobs and change their quality of life."
Hardine's locals have faith that, no matter what, only positive things will emerge from the celebration.
"Before Hardini, people weren't really happy," says Sarkis Nimr, a resident of the town. "People who used to come to the town only did so if they knew someone here. Now, a saint's home is neighboring our very own, and they are coming out of their own will."
"We want all these people to visit Hardini and his village and witness the town's well-known generosity," said Jreius Dib smiling. "And after that, we want them to come back."
Biography of Hardini
Neematallah Kassab al-Hardini was born Yussef Georges Kassab in 1808 in Hardine, Lebanon. In 1828, at the age of 20, he abandoned everything to enter the novitiate at St. Anthony's Monastery Lhozaya near Ehden. It was there that the young pupil changed his name to Neematallah, signifying the beginning of a new life devoted to God.
During the novitiate, Brother Neematallah practiced the monastic principles of praying, working and living in a community, while learning the traditions of the Lebanese Order. After his religious studies, he was ordained as a priest in Kfifane on Dec. 25, 1833.
He later became the vice-superior of the Lebanese Maronite Order three times and taught theology at the order's main seminary where the Lebanese saint, Charbel Makhlouf, was one of his students.
Hardini died of stomach cancer at the Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justin in December of 1858, in Kfifane.
Sometime later, the monks at the monastery opened Hardini's tomb and found that his body had remained incorrupt for several years. His candidacy for beatification was submitted to the Lebanese Maronite Order in 1926. The following year, the Committee of Inquiry began an investigation of Hardini's incorruptibility. He was finally declared venerable by Pope John Paul II in 1989.
After the investigation of a miracle involving the curing of a supposedly incurable disease, the Vatican's General Assembly of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints accepted the miracle. Hardini's beatification by Pope John Paul II was held at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome on Sunday, May 10 in 1998, with the ceremony viewed by audiences all over the world.
Hardini is also credited with performing several other miracles during his life, including the healing of a person with a neurological disease, the restoration of sight to a blind person, and, in one of his better-known miracles, the resurrection of a dead baby.
Neematallah al-Hardini will be officially canonized by the Vatican on May 16, 2004.