BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Good Samaritan has a name. He was born in Lebanon 130 years ago, and his name is Jacques Haddad.
He’s better known to the poor and lowly here as “Abuna Yaacub,” Abuna being the Arabic word for “Father.”
Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, came to Lebanon to beatify Abuna Yaacub June 22. He was assisted in the ceremony, which took place in Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut, by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church.
“Father Haddad was born in 1875, in a small village, Ghazir, in the heart of the ‘Christian country’ in Lebanon,” said Father Salim Rizkallah, a Capuchin who knew Abuna Yaacub and, as vice-postulator, has been working on his file for the past 40 years. “A clever boy, he was sent to a Franciscan school near his village, then to Beirut, in the hope of his being a support for his father, Boutros.”
Those were uncertain days for Lebanon, officially under Ottoman rule, but actually benefiting from a special status of relative autonomy, which the Christian West took full advantage of by sending missionaries, opening schools and trading, especially silk. Education was a way out of poverty.
Boutros Haddad sent 18-year-old Jacques to find a job. But as the young man entered a Franciscan church, he saw a coffin where the body of a Capuchin priest, Father Gabriel of Bethlehem, lay, head resting on a hard bundle of vine shoots. There and then, he decided that he would be nothing other than a priest — and a Capuchin.
And that is what he became, though not without strong opposition from his father at first, but with the secret approval of his mother, Shams (“Sun”), a woman of prayer whose rosary beads never left her hand.
He went on to build a hospital for the mentally ill, another that has become one of the prominent hospitals in Beirut, a home for the elderly, a retirement home for priests, a retreat center, schools in many parts of Lebanon and orphanages.
In the 1930s, he founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross of Lebanon, an order that flourished in the country. The sisters serve in schools and hospitals, as well as in the pontifical embassies in Lebanon and Syria.
A renowned preacher, Father Yaacub left more than 8,000 pages of homilies and letters.
A large part of the crowd of 100,000 at his beatification were “simple folk rendering homage to a man who had put them first in his thoughts and works,” said Father Fadi Daou, who teaches theology at the Jesuit Université Saint-Joseph.
The liturgical prologue of the ceremony included the reading of a short biography of the new blessed. “Born in Ghazir, on the 1st of February 1875, in a pious Maronite family … Jacques Haddad died on the 26th of June 1954, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, at the age of nearly 80 years old,” said the notice.
Three o’clock in the afternoon is the “ninth hour,” when Jesus breathed his last on the cross, noted Father Rizkallah. Abuna Yaacub had placed his life under the sign of the cross.
The parable of the Good Samaritan was chosen as the Gospel reading, another symbol with which the life of Father Jacques was associated.
At a time of rising food prices, the parable pointed to the good use of money, a topic to which many faithful were sensitive, as they applauded the Maronite patriarch’s comments on the reading, and the trust Abuna Yaacub placed in Divine Providence as “a bank that never goes bankrupt.”
Said Patriarch Sfeir: “When he was asked about his account books, Abuna Yaacub answered: ‘I keep nothing in reserve. All the money I receive, I spend on my poor.’”
Mother Marie Makhlouf, superior of the order he founded, recalled one of Abuna Yaacub’s favorite sayings: “If you only knew what the poor really represent on earth, you would be serving them on your knees.” It’s a quote that earned the Capuchin the distinction of being considered the “Lebanese St. Vincent de Paul.”
Fady Noun is based in Beirut, Lebanon.