Patriarch Elias Boutros Howayek

Patriarch Elias Boutros Howayek

by Joe Waked



On 6 July 2019, Pope Francis declared the 72nd Patriarch of the Maronite Church, Elias Boutros Howayek, Venerable.This brings the patriarch, who was instrumental in the creation of the modern state of Lebanon, one step closer to sainthood. According to Vatican News, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree of venerable on “the heroic virtues of the Lebanese Servant of God Elias [Howayek], Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Founder of the Congregation of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family. He was born in Helta, Lebanon on 4 December 1843 and died in Bkerké, Lebanon on 24 December 1931.”

Elias Howayek was the oldest of seven children. His father, Tadros, was the village priest and was known as Father Boutros. His mother, Ghorra Tannous Howayek, was a saintly woman of immovable faith, known for her exemplary charity and piety. The family lived in poverty but enjoyed a life of love and fear of the Lord.  At an early age, Elias developed a dedication to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which only grew and deepened as he matured to manhood. His calling to the priesthood eventually led him to Rome where he was ordained on June 5, 1870 and received his doctorate in theology.  He returned to Lebanon and served as the Patriarch’s personal secretary until December 1889, when he was ordained bishop and titular archbishop of ‘Araka, as well as Patriarchal Vicar.  Finally, on January 7, 1899, he was elected Patriarch of Antioch and the East.

Patriarch Howayek had many remarkable virtues including his love and service to the poor of Lebanon and his passion for the godly building of families which led him to establish the missionary Congregation of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family in 1895.  This was one year after he had been in Rome reestablishing the Pontifical Maronite College. His zeal led him across Europe and the Middle East, building Maronite Churches and establishing Lebanese communities.  Elias firmly believed that the education of young girls was the foundation of strong, faithful families and he charged the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family with this solemn objective:

            “God, Great and Most High, founded this dear Congregation in His providence and mercy,

            nurturing it and protecting it up till now…and [He] will protect and bless it till the end of time….

He also led the Church through the terrible persecutions under Ottoman rule and became the symbol of hope for Maronites as his priests and religious fed and cared for the thousands of hungry, homeless and impoverished Lebanese during World War I. After the war ended, a defiant Patriarch Howayek successfully advocated and lobbied European powers to keep Lebanon distinct and separate as its own nation, preserving its unique culture, and most importantly, the preservation of a Christian identity. 

Patriarch Howayek continued living a Christ-like life of heroic virtue until his death, fittingly, on Christmas Eve, 1931.  Later, upon the request of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family, his successor Patriarch Antoun Arida, authorized the transfer of the Patriarch’s body to the crypt of the congregation’s headquarters in Ebrine, on May 12th, 1936.  Since that day, the crypt became a shrine for pilgrimage and prayer. 

For Venerable Patriarch Howayek, the remaining step before beatification — when we may call him “Blessed Elias Howayek” — is the approval of a miracle.   Such a supernatural event would be evidence of the intercessory power of the Venerable Servant of God and, thus, of his union after death with the Triune God. The Church conducts painstaking tribunals, both scientific and theological. While the scientific and medical commission rules that the cure is without natural explanation, the theological  commission must rule whether the cure was a miracle in the strict sense, that is, by its nature can only be attributedto God.  Ultimately, another such miracle is required following beatification as evidence for the final canonization of the Patriarch as “saint”.

God is raising up holy men and women for the sanctification of His Church in Lebanon. The Maronite Church can, not only survive, but grow and prosper in the world and in Lebanon especially — only if it heeds His call and imitates His righteous saints.