On August 26, the entire Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the “Little Arab”, the Carmelite nun Mary of Jesus Crucified. The Arab nun from Galilee was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1983 and Pope Francis proclaimed her saint in 2015.

ImageMariam (second from left, back row) with her Carmelite sisters

Maryam Bawardi was born in the middle of the nineteenth century to a Melkite (Greek Catholic) Arab family in the village of  Ibilin in Galilee. She lost her parents at a tender age and after some years went to live in Alexandria with her uncle. When she refused to be wed (at the age of 13) her uncle maltreated her. A neighbor even tried to murder her when she refused his proposal that she become a Muslim. Later, she attributed her survival to the intervention of the Virgin Mary.

After she had worked as a servant for a rich family in Lebanon and Galilee, she was attracted to the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition and she was sent to France. However, the congregation refused to accept her because of her visions. Finally, she entered the Carmelite monastery in Pau, France. As a Carmelite nun she was active in establishing Carmelite monasteries in India and in Bethlehem. In the tradition of the Carmel, these were places of deep and constant prayer and intercession.

She died at the age of 33 in 1878 in the Bethlehem monastery before plans to establish another Carmel monastery in Nazareth could be completed.