Fr. Charbel Daw

‘You will be a priest for the poor’

  • June 16, 2023

Fr. Charbel Daw can pinpoint the exact hour he experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ: Oct. 1, 2000, between 3 to 4 p.m.

Daw, ordained a priest at Saint-Fabien in Montreal on June 16, was 22 years old. He described his faith in an email interview — translated from French to English — as “rather rudimentary,” having grown up in a Catholic family of the Maronite rite (though he attended Roman Catholic services). He attended church for Christmas and Easter, and he would complete an evening prayer “stammered without much fervour” before bed.

On this day, he felt a stir to read the source of the Gospel values his parents instilled in him as a boy.

“It was not yet the call to become a priest — far from it,” recalled Daw. “But already a first light was kindled in my heart when I discovered, in the Bible, this Jesus Christ in whom I believed, but without really knowing Him, was close to the poor, the excluded, the marginalized.”

At the time he was writing his doctoral thesis to complete his diploma in pharmacy at the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar in Senegal. Daw was raised in Senegal after his family fled from his birth country of Lebanon when he was five years old because of the Lebanese civil war between 1975-1990.

His spiritual encounter through reading the Bible transformed his life immediately. He began to attend Mass every Sunday, he continued to read the Gospel, he began praying the rosary and he studied the lives of the saints.

“My heart began to beat for Christ and for this new life that He offers us,” wrote Daw.

Soon after Daw attained his diploma, he decided to move to Paris to obtain a specialized degree in drug toxicology from Paris Descartes University (also known as Paris V University). During this chapter of his life, Daw said he was “torn between two desires: the desire to continue in my pharmaceutical profession and the greater desire to give myself to the Lord.”

Medical work prevailed initially. One day when he was back home with his parents in Senegal, a scrolling advertisement came across the bottom of his television screen during a soccer match declaring that Quebec needed qualified workers in the pharmaceutical field.  After discussing this prospect with his parents, Daw chose to embrace a new adventure in the Canadian frontier. In 2011, he arrived in the French-speaking province with his diplomas — and Bible — in tow to work as a pharmacist or drug toxicologist.

Daw began to work in a pharmacy but admitted “his heart was not there.” He was already stoking his burgeoning passion for faith by studying for a degree in practical theology from the Université de Montréal.

After years of irresolution, Daw decided to end the years-long internal tension between pharmacy work and completely surrendering to the Lord by choosing a life of service to God. Just like the kindling of his faith, Daw recollects the precise day and hour of this momentous choice.

“(On) the night of Nov. 4, 2014, around 10 p.m., while I was alone in my apartment in Montreal, I took the crucifix in my hand and begged Christ to deliver me from the indecision and enlighten me on the path I should take. And there I hear for the first time in my life, in a clear and unambiguous way, this inner voice says to me: ‘you will be a priest for the poor.’ ”

After years of study at the Grand Séminaire de l’Archdiocèse de Montréal, Daw is ready to dive into fulfilling God’s plan for his life. He has a vision statement for his ministerial priesthood beginning later in 2023: “a man of dialogue, of openness and unity, and a herald for the Good News of Jesus Christ to quench the human thirst for the absolute.”

Daw adds that he wants to see each person “beyond the diversity of cultures, religions, races and sensitivities,” to “what is most noble, most worthy: his humanity made in the image of God.”

He also desires genuine unity.

“Not a feigned unity, a simulation of unity, but an authentic unity based on this certainty that we form one family, one Church which has one chief, Christ.”

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