Pope Blesses Painting of Lebanon's Father Giacomo

Capuchin to Be Beatified Next Month

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By Marta Lago

ROME, MAY 21, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI blessed a painting of Father Giacomo da Ghazir Haddad that will be displayed at the beatification ceremony of the Capuchin this June in Beirut.

After today's general audience, the Pope expressed his admiration for the painting by Natalia Tsarkova. Sister Marie Makhlouf, superior-general of the order the priest founded was present for the blessing.

Khalil de Ghazir Haddad was born in Lebanon in 1875. He joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchins, taking the name Giacomo, and founded the order of Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in 1930. He died in 1954.

The 110 x 170 centimeter painting (3.6 x 5.6 foot) depicts the priest in the center with a serene gaze. The cross from his rosary -- worn from use -- can be seen between his fingers.

Tsarkova told ZENIT that she submerged herself in the study of the personality, spirituality and context of the Capuchin in order to create the work.

"It is very important to understand how it is carried out, the necessary elements for the painting," she explained, noting that the work is "not just a portrait, but a composition."

Works

Seen in the distance at the right of the canvas is a psychiatric hospital and school that the priest established. On the left, an angel reveals the same complex in its current state. A kneeling woman religious, serving a glass of water, represents the congregation he founded. And a boy holds a notebook open with Benedict XVI's coat of arms and the date of Father de Ghazir's beatification, June 22, 2008.

The canvas also shows an elderly priest seeking help and a child with Down Syndrome. Some of the apostolic works of Father Giacomo are dedicated to priests who, because of age or health, can no longer continue in active ministry. Others of his works are at the service of the handicapped, elderly or terminally ill who are abandoned by their families. Still others are dedicated to orphans.

Tsarkova acknowledged: "I was very moved by the suffering of Father de Ghazir, because it was not easy to establish the hospital; I saw the movie, I read books and moreover, I met with handicapped people to include them in the picture and others who could pose for the priest. This takes time.

"I worked day and night because I had very short deadline when I received the task [from the Franciscan sisters], but I could not say no."

The Russian artist said that receiving the blessing of the Pope and seeing his satisfaction "is a great honor and a great joy."

"It is a stimulus to work harder; it gives energy, and this is important," she said.

The painting will be taken to Beirut where it will sit near the tomb of the priest in the Church of St. Mary of the Sea.

Tsarkova was recently commissioned by the Vatican to paint Benedict XVI. She presented him with the full-length portrait in December.