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Among the throngs of pilgrims, Lebanese of all backgrounds reached out to Mrs. El Shami; others made their way to the tomb to offer their prayers and requests of miraculous intercession.

One sporty father in flashy sunglasses had in tow his 5-year-old son named Sharbel, also wearing flashy sunglasses. This modern-day Sharbel will most likely attend a school where classes will be taught in English, French and Arabic. Access to the internet will broaden his horizons beyond all borders, and his Facebook page will extend his social network around the world.

But not all pilgrims were wearing the latest fashions or, as was one visitor, bandages from recent nasal plastic surgery. Poor pilgrims, disguised by their Sunday best, bowed their heads and furrowed their faces. Their prayers could be easily guessed.

These days, with a global recession well under way, St. Sharbel no doubt is hearing prayers from middle-class people as well. Six months ago, many would have taken the trip to the saint’s tomb as a Sunday family outing — the monastery sits on a beautiful bluff, high above the Mediterranean Sea. But as they receive news from family members losing their jobs abroad — loved ones on whom they often depend for remittances — the pilgrimage has taken on new meaning.

The holy site also attracts others besides Christians. Among the crowd was a young Syrian Muslim couple.

“People with good hearts come here,” said the husband simply about the experience.

Nearby, a group of Indian men and women, who live in Lebanon as guest workers, looked on excitedly. On their day off, they made the pilgrimage to the former home and burial place of the holy Sharbel. The women, their saris glistening in the sunshine, said they came to pray for peace. The men, said they came to pray as Hindus, but felt close to their Christian brethren.

For one reason or another, many potential pilgrims cannot make the journey. Instead, they send their prayers and requests of intercession by letter. In recent years, emails have become popular. All such requests arrive at the office of the monastery’s abbot, Father Tannous Nehme. He and his seven-member staff keep up with the letters, which often include requests for oil and relics.

The office includes a display of letters and their stamped envelopes sent to the monastery from around the world, such as Cuba, Kuwait, Senegal and Tanzania.

Among those on display is a letter sent 20 years ago by Margaret Morrow, a Massachusetts woman. A simple search connected the woman’s address on the envelope with a phone number, which in turn led to a fascinating conversation with the author. Ms. Morrow, now 86, continues to pray daily to St. Sharbel.

Items sent from all over the world cover Father Tannous’s desk, attesting to the saint’s global reach. The jovial priest pointed out the most recent gifts: yard-long white ribbons with messages in Spanish from Mexico and a book about the Maronite saint and his miracles from Russia. Later that afternoon, Father Tannous was expecting a television crew from a Sri Lankan news program, which planned to run a segment on the saint.

The monastery’s gift shop offers plentiful reminders of St. Sharbel’s life and legacy. Visitors can choose from books, icons, key chains, medals and rosaries, all of which have been blessed.

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Tags: Lebanon Village life Pilgrimage/pilgrims Monastery