It seemed hardly coincidental that months before I departed for Damascus, Syria I chose September 11, 2001 to be in flight there. I would spend time at an ideal Christian Community of Soufanieh that has developed in the midst of Muslim land. For the first time in 2000 years, in the very area where St. Paul the Apostle was converted and baptized, from where he went to convert the world to be one in Jesus Christ, miracles have been happening since 1982. They call for love and unity.
I was urged to write a book on Soufanieh. I would not do so without first hand experience of the area. I needed to get to know the people directly involved. I needed to interview Church authorities of both the Orthodox and Catholics. The Nazzour family at the center of the Soufanieh supernatural phenomenon has a Melkite rite Catholic Mother, Myrna, and Orthodox father, Nicolas.
I was in Damascus, Syria, for a week, each day as a guest at the Virgin’s House of Soufanieh. I was always made welcome by Nicholas and Myrna Nazzour.
I had many interviews with people and authorities knowledgeable about Soufanieh. These included His Holiness, Moran Mar Ignatius Zaka I, the Syrian Orthodox Prince Patriarch of Antioch; also, Gregoire III, Patriarch of Melkite Catholics; Archbishop Dionysius Behnam Jajjawi, Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese; Father Elias Zahlaoui associated with Soufanieh from the beginning; Father Boulos Fadel (Myrna’s Spiritual Director succeeding Fr. Malouli). I found great cooperation from all, including the friends of the local Soufanieh community. The love that flowed between all these people, the spirit of unity, was evident.
The Virgin Mother had told Myrna in 1982 to open the door of their home to all. I observed the door of Virgin’s House of Soufanieh, which is the Nazzour home, opened daily to people of all faiths. They came from different countries and prayed before the Icon of Soufanieh. These included Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. Always there was respect from all, always all were welcome. I admired the sacrifice of the Nazzour family in opening their home to all. Never has anything been disturbed or stolen.
Whenever I offered the Sacrifice of the Mass at Soufanieh Home before the Icon, I found the people most devout. They prayed long before the Mass began. I was able to use the chalice daily which the Pope used when he was in Damascus, May 2001, following the footsteps of St. Paul.
On my final evening of September 18, 2001 we were gathered for Mass and farewell in the upper terrace where Our Lady appeared. At the end of the Mass I expressed my gratitude for the charity and kindness of all. I was saying that I recognized a similarity between the message of Fatima in the West and Soufanieh in the East. Suddenly Father Elias Zahlaoui drew my attention that olive oil was exuding from the hands of Myrna who stood beside him. Then the youth present began singing a beautiful hymn to the Virgin of Soufanieh and wanted me to anoint them with oil from Myrna’s hands. I had said Mass near midnight. Planes had been grounded after the terrorist attacks. What difficulties awaited me to fly back to USA? I anticipated Mass near midnight as I never want a day without offering holy Mass. I took the abundant oil from Myrna’s hands, anointed each one. As always happens the oil began to cease when all were anointed.
While I had come to research for a book on Soufanieh I prayed that if God wanted oil to occur while I was there – if He felt that a miracle would make the book on Soufanieh I was to write more credible, its in His hands. If God wanted to bring forth oil, not for Myrna’s glory or mine, but only for the effectiveness of the message of Soufanieh, which is for love and unity of the family and the Church – only God can determine that and cause the miracle. I had no right to ask.
Before going to Soufanieh I did not know that the message of Soufanieh concerned family life. I thought the call was only for Christian Unity of the Universal Church, starting with the reunion of Orthodox and Catholics. Then I discovered Soufanieh concerns love and unity in the family as well. Now I understood, as director of the Fatima Family Apostolate, dedicated to the sanctification of families, why, by unforeseen circumstances, I was called to Soufanieh-Damascus. It became clear why I choose to fly there to a Community of Love and Unity, September 11, at the same time when hatred of extremists was being unleashed in my native land.
When there are millions of families filled with love and living in unity in Christ there will come Christian Unity. The first big effort is to unify the Feast of Easter so Orthodox and Catholics celebrate the Feast at the same time. Then the rest will follow.
I hope the Icon of Soufanieh, offered in this issue, can be placed in the homes of every FFA member and reader of the Messenger. •