Damascus, January 6th, 1997

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

You must think that the annual Soufanieh circular has taken too long to come out. I apologise for the delay that many among you will understand. I make up for it today with joy and hope. This circular will cover four items:

I. The celebration of the 14th anniversary

II. The travels (trips) of Myrna

III. The social, spiritual and missionary accomplishments attributed to Soufanieh.

IV. Expansion and organization trends of Soufanieh.

I - THE CELEBRATION OF THE 14th ANNIVERSARY
 

Yes, believe it or not, it is the 14th anniversary of Soufanieh that we have just celebrated. Many are surprised, specially among the inhabitants of Damascus. Is it not the same old and yet still relevant saying: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth"? ...

Two celebrations marked this anniversary:

1. The first ..... ...was the Divine Liturgy, celebrated on Sunday 24th November, in St-Joseph's church at Douweila, Southern outskirt of Damascus. Mgr. Isidore Battikha, Greek-catholic Patriarchal Vicar in Damascus celebrated this mass, in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio, Monsignor Pier Giacomo de Nicolo. Several priests were concelebrating, among them two French ones who had arrived with two groups of pilgrims, Fathers René Fromont and Joseph Bernier. Choeur-Joie was in charge of the choir. Monsignor Battikha's homily stressed the Unity of the Church and of the Easter feast, based on the gospel of the day. It also insisted on the messages of Soufanieh, towards the end of the Holy Mass, the Nuncio sang a hymn honouring the Virgin Mary. As he was ending his singing, the oil oozed on both hands of Myrna. The emotion was such that nothing could control the crowd. It was only after a while that one was able to retrieve Myrna in a room adjoining the church. There some sick persons were able to join her so as to pray with her and be anointed with the oil. 2. The second... ...was the prayer celebrated at the "House of Our Lady" in the afternoon of 26th November, on the eve of the anniversary. The prayer started at 4:30 p.m. and continued until 10 p.m., with a half hour pause. At 11 p.m., I celebrated the Divine Liturgy myself, surrounded by several priests, among them Fathers René Laurentin, René Fromont and Joseph Bernier. Monsignor Isidore Battikha arrived just at the beginning of the Mass, followed a few minutes later by Monsignor Farès Makaron, Greek-catholic bishop of Lattakia in Syria. At my request, Monsignor Isidore gave the sermon which he devoted entirely to the Unity of the Church.

At the end of the mass at 00.30 a.m., suddenly the face of Myrna as well as her two hands were filled abundantly with oil. Moving moments ... The singing of the hymns started off again. When I left the "House of Our Lady" at 1:30 a.m., the youth were performing a dabké dance in the patio around the small fountain.

Let it be said also that Choeur-Joie of Damascus and the Choir of Our Lady of Unity, founded in Beirut by the deacon Georges Battikha, had taken it in stride to ensure the singing throughout that special evening filled with prayer and joy. Let us also mention for our friends of Soufanieh, that these two ceremonies were filmed on video-cassette by some friends in Damascus. As for the Prayer, followed by the Mass which took place on the 26th at the "House of Our Lady"", it was also filmed by the Lebanese Television channel, Télé-Lumière which duly broadcasted it a few days later. Should I also add that a large crowd, from Syria, the Arab world, France, Belgium and Italy was attending those two ceremonies? Let me mention particularly Father René Laurentin (Vatican French Mariologist) who had kindly accepted my personal invitation as well as the French neurologist Philippe Loron, from the Salpetrière in Paris.

II - MYRNA'S TRAVELS To mention Myrna's travels in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, has become very ordinary. This is why I will not dwell on it. However, I would like to stress that in all those countries, Myrna travels there only if she is invited by the local bishop or a priest having obtained his bishop's approval.

I will therefore mention in the next paragraphs Myrna's trips to North America and France only.

1. North America This trip started on 4th June and ended 14th July. Myrna was accompanied by her husband Nicolas and her two children, Myriam and Jean-Emmanuel. I also accompanied them from 4th June to 4th July. Doctor Georges Tinawi from San Francisco (born in Aleppo, Syria), organized the whole trip and assumed its cost. He did that in full agreement with the various hierarchies where Myrna was to travel and pray, namely Greek-catholic, Latin, Maronite, American and Romanian-catholic.

The program was as follows: 9 days in the New-York / New Jersey area (New York, Glenridge, West Patterson), 11 days in the California area (San Francisco, San Bruno, Los Angeles, Glendale), 5 days in the Ohio area (Cleveland, Acron, Boardman), 4 days in the Detroit area and 2 days spent privately in Canada (Montreal), for an interview at Radio Ville-Marie, with Mr. Gilbert Charron, myself and Mr Melhem Mobarak; finally returning to Detroit, where Myrna and her family were stranded due to an injury to Nicolas' foot.

Entire books would not contain what has been experienced during this trip: intensity of prayers, always in churches, that lasted some times no less than three hours, with enormous crowds from all denominations.

There consisted the essence of the trip: the prayer during which Myrna used to simply tell her testimony, always translated into English. Prayer consisted in celebrating the Holy Mass, most of the time preceded by the meditated prayer of the Rosary.

The exudation of oil from the hands of Myrna occurred in all the churches, but one. Exudation occurred also out of churches. The first time, it was in the office of Archimandrite Eugene N. Pappas, Hellenic Orthodox, in charge of the Three Hierarchs Orthodox Church in Brooklyn (New York), President of the Greek Orthodox Clergy SYNDESMOS of the New York Metropolitan District, while he was telling us his ecumenical experience and listening to the testimony of Myrna on the Unity of the Hearts and of the Church. The second time, it occurred on the very tomb of young Anita Hovsepian, at the Glendale cemetery, in California, while we were praying with the grieved parents of Anita.

Many priests witnessed the exudation of oil. As for the faithful, they number several tens of thousands. Some of them, such as doctor Antoine Mansour and his wife, have come from very far to attend.

Three bishops also attended those prayers followed by oil exudation: the Latin bishop, Mgr. Donald W. Montrose, from Stockton near San Francisco, Mgr. Nicolas Samra, Greek-catholic bishop of Detroit and finally, the Romanian Catholic bishop of Ohio, Mgr John Michael Botean. A good portion of this trip was filmed on video-cassette by many people, but especially by Mr. Gabriel Berbérian, who came from Canada to accompany and film most of the tour.

2. France This trip started on 19th September and ended on 3rd October. I was the only one to accompany Myrna on this trip, Nicolas had to stay in Damascus with the two kids, since the latter could not leave school for two weeks.

At first, we had been invited by two missionary priests from Besançon, Pierre and Raymond-Marie Jaccard, known also under the name of the "Jaccard Brothers". They had organised two days of Marial and Eucharistic encounter in Ars, for the 28th and 29th September.

This was an opportunity for several friends in France to invite Myrna. Finally our itinerary was the following: Paris, Villers-sur-Coudun, Lisieux, Lourdes, Espalion, Bonneval, Dijon, Nevers, Vézelay, Ars, Bésançon, La Ferté Gaucher, Vaumoise, Villers-sur-Coudun, Damascus. Apart from the Paris-Lourdes section which was effected by plane, we drove the rest of this long trip, thanks to three volunteer friends with a heart of fire.

Everywhere, the prayer meetings and the testimonials occurred with total simplicity. The exudation of oil moved people sometimes to tears. Many also confessed to me the deep impression of Myrna's humility and transparency. Many, as well, wrote to me, after our return, to confirm their testimony, send us photos, video and audio tapes. I thank them very much for everything.

III - SOUFANIEH's FRUITS

"One judges the tree by its fruits" says Jesus. Among the fruits of Soufanieh, three are worth mentioning, two of which relate to the poorest outskirt of Damascus, Douweila.

1. Professional Formation Centre of Douweila In the Soufanieh 13th annual report, I had outlined the creation of a center, as part of the Parish of Douweila, which was called "The Oasis of Hope". The idea came from a faithful of Soufanieh, well informed about the Parish situation. He had bought a large house, had it rebuilt and laid out to serve as a social center. But nothing was progressing. He then thought of entrusting Nicolas, Myrna's husband, with its management. To free him, he offered him a dignified salary that he would pay out of his own pocket, since the centre was to function practically gratuitously.

Nicolas was to prove himself an amazing manager, socially as well as spiritually. This center offers, for a token fee, regular but intensive courses of professional formation for tailoring, sewing, embroidery and hair dressing. The centre was also able, against all odds, to find suitable work to all those who had followed the courses. An electronics course is also in the making.

Furthermore, seven doctors, with various specializations, ensure throughout the week, a gratuitous presence, while providing the sick people with free prescriptions.

On the spiritual level, this centre has become a real honeycomb where hundreds of children youngsters and university students come to build and strengthen their faith.

For the 14th anniversary of Soufanieh, this centre has organized an exhibition lasting several days and in which the exhibited items had been produced by the youngsters themselves. This exhibition was praised by the many foreigners, pilgrims or residents who were there for the 14th anniversary.

Wouldn't you agree that this center deserves its name "Oasis of Hope"?

2. Extension and embellishment of St-Joseph's church The Douweila parish church dedicated to St-Joseph, had been built thirty years ago. It was one of the smallest and poorest of the thirty three churches of Damascus.

Thereupon, a laity (the same who created the "Oasis of Hope") decides to extend it. This took several months in 1996. He extended it in such a way that this church has become, without question, one of the most beautiful and one of the largest church of Damascus.

It now embodies several meeting rooms capable of welcoming the numerous apostolic movements, present and future which are already there as well as the ones which will grow in it.

It is also in this church that was celebrated the mass of the 14th anniversary of Soufanieh. The Virgin Mary must have been very happy for this great silent man who was St-Joseph.

3. The tour of "Choeur-Joie" Chorus in France and Belgium Such a title may sound misplaced in this circular. In fact, the two European tours of Choeur-Joie (summer 1995 and summer 1996) have sprung from the heart of Soufanieh itself, only then to follow its missionary thrust.

As a matter of fact, those two European trips would have proven impossible, without the friends of Soufanieh, Arabs and non-Arabs: the former having ensured most of the financial portion, the non-Arabs having provided for most of the welcome and shelter in houses (in France, Holland and Germany in 1995, in France in 1996).

For Choeur-Joie, these two tours were nothing less than a mission of evangelization (yes, however strong this word may sound), in line with the message given to Myrna by Jesus, in the evening of 26th November 1987: "Go and preach in the whole world and say without fear that one works for Unity".

With Choeur-Joie, we believe that we have brought this message in line with the total gratuitousness of Soufanieh. We take this opportunity to declare that EVERYTHING having been provided to us, we have insisted EVERYWHERE to celebrate Byzantine masses and perform singing recitals, not only in TOTAL GRATUITY but also in REFUSING any gift or collection made without our knowledge.

Furthermore, we believe having brought the message to the level of Christian unity as well as Human unity. Just by building a BRIDGE (however frail it may be) between the Arab world (which is ours for sure) and the West. Naturally, this bridge has been built with our modest means which have not gone beyond liturgical celebration, homilies, conferences, interviews of newspapers and TV broadcasts (such as the program of France 2 recorded with Choeur-Joie at Vezelay and broadcasted on the morning of Christmas 1996), and especially with the numerous and rich encounters that we were able to have.

In the summer of 1995, we went to France, Holland and Germany for 23 days with 105 singers, the elders of Choeur-Joie.

As for the summer of 1996, we travelled through France and Belgium, for 25 days with the second group of Choeur-Joie which included no less than 136 singers with ages ranging between 15 and 20. Our immense thanks go to our Lady of Soufanieh: She has enabled us throughout those years to know and love the many brothers and sisters who have made these tours, as well as the future ones perhaps, possible, enjoyable and even necessary. Those brothers and sisters, who without HER, would have remained real strangers for us. Choeur-Joie, through prayer, implores Our Lady of Soufanieh to express to them Her thanks in Her own so rich and so surprising way.

IV. - EXPANSION AND ORGANIZATION TRENDS OF SOUFANIEH I would like to point out in this paragraph some points related to the Soufanieh situation as a whole. It is a FACT that Soufanieh is following its path discretely but surely, calmly and smoothly. It is another FACT that whoever has tried, however little, to know Soufanieh, become instinctively convinced and happy.

This explains the many groups of prayers which have spontaneously bloomed here and there, coinciding some times, with the prayer hours in Damascus.

This is how many friends take it upon them to spread Soufanieh, by writing themselves about it or by spreading photocopies of already published articles.

Finally, this is how many people take it upon them to spread either beautiful little enamelled medals of Our Lady of Soufanieh, enlarged images laminated on wood or luxuriously framed and to distribute them FREE OF CHARGE.

Letters continue to reach us by the hundreds from a bit everywhere. A good number of those ask us for oil-soaked cotton-wool and pictures.

Some correspondents, ignoring the Soufanieh principle of gratuitousness or feeling uneasy about it, try some times to send in cheques. We ALWAYS hasten to tear them up and write to the senders so as to notify them and justify our action.

Audio cassettes play an active part in Soufanieh's mission. The very first ones were made by Christian Ravaz and Doctor Philippe Loron. The most recent ones, by Mr. Melhem Mobarak with Radio Ville-Marie (Montreal, Canada - January 1996) and then with Myrna, Mr Mobarak and myself during an interview by Mr. Gilbert Charron of Radio Ville-Marie, in Montreal (July 1996, diffused in October 1996). Soon, the audio-cassette of a televised interview realized with Father René Laurentin and Doctor Philippe Loron, will come out. Let us also mention the beautiful testimony of Myrna in Ars, which is already being circulated in France.

As for the video-cassettes, there are many that have been going around since a few years. The most recent ones concern the 13th and 14th anniversary as well as the travels of Myrna in the U.S. and France. There is one however that I must single out especially: it relates to a lengthy interview that I was able to conduct with Father R. Laurentin and the neurologist Philippe Loron, during their visit in Damascus, for the 14th anniversary. This interview lasted 85 minutes and is the first one of its kind with Father Laurentin. Let him be thanked for it. This video-cassette is already available in France, in the United States as well as Canada, in the French language for the time being. A few months earlier, on June 9th, Gabriel Berberian and Melhem Mobarak had been able to secure, with much difficulties, an exclusive fifteen minutes interview with Abbott Rene Laurentin during which he exposed his impressions on Soufanieh and on the preponderant role of Mary in the work of Salvation.

On the publishing level, I must point out first the impending French translation of the beautiful and lengthy meditation of Mr. Antoine Makdisi, published in Arabic in 1990. This translation will be the work of Sister Afifa Gaith, Syrian missionary in Tunisia. I should also mention the translation of two books into English, which will soon be published: They are "Souvenez-vous de Dieu" and "Notice sur Soufanieh" which I had written in Arabic for "busy" readers... Other publications are in the work. Three important factors have been added to the expansion and organization trend of Soufanieh:

1. The welcoming of Our Lady of Soufanieh into the cycle of the "Pilgrim Virgins": The Pilgrim Virgins' initiative, launched in France by Maître Edmond Fricoteau, is so well known that it is not necessary to present it. However, some French friends already involved in this splendid missionary enterprise, have requested an enlargement of the painting on wood of the picture of Our Lady of Soufanieh. Its size is 1 meter long x 70 cm wide (2x3 feet). These friends who came to Damascus for the 14th anniversary, were delighted to take back with them this beautiful icon. It was supposed to be blessed in Rome first, with other icons and statues of Our Lady and then enter the cycle of trips planned for the "Pilgrim Virgins". At this very moment, Our Lady of Soufanieh must have started Her numerous visits to Her children. Hadn't She promised it on the evening of 18 December 1982, when She said: "I shall visit the homes more often" ?

"Ahlan wa Sahlan", Our Lady of Soufanieh! ... Welcome, welcome, Our Lady of Soufanieh! ...

2. The creation of an Association to include all the associations of Our Lady of Soufanieh: This idea had already been launched two years ago. Alas, nothing concrete has resulted to this day. Finally, after much thinking and talking, we had the idea of organizing in Damascus, an encounter which would include all those who wish it, among the responsible members of these various associations. We felt that the most suitable moment will be during the 15th anniversary of Soufanieh. Let us think about it. 3. Soufanieh on the Internet (the World Wide Web) Several friends of Soufanieh in France, Canada and the U.S. have had the near simultaneous idea of documenting Soufanieh on the Internet. Several projects were studied, since we felt that the project must be solid, extensive and exhaustive.

Finally, the Friends of Our Lady of Soufanieh in Canada have had the joy of offering it as a Christmas present to Our Lady, since this is how they viewed their Internet contribution. Most of the data is already there. It concerns the FACTS (including photographs of oil oozing from Myrna's hands, from Icons, ecstasies, stigmata etc...) and the MESSAGES. The second part will be launched when ready, and this should not take too long. It will concern the "healings", the ecclesiastical stands towards the phenomenon as well as the various testimonies and the travels of Myrna. Should you have any suggestions, please share them with us.

Here are the co-ordinates of the Site: http://www.soufanieh.com and the electronic mailbox is soufanieh@sympatico.ca

V. - CONCLUSION Many worry, and rightly so, about the health of Myrna, Nicolas and their children, as well as about the health of Father Joseph Malouli.

Let us talk about Myrna and her family. Imagine a house open day and night for the past 14 years with people always displaying their availability and their smile in the strictest gratuitousness.

One must agree that we are facing a near miraculous situation.

Myrna and Nicolas have finally agreed to come to terms and accept the principle of "visiting hours" at the "House of Our Lady". It has been decided that as of April 1st, 1997, the house will be open at the following hours :

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
From 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
 
For sure, every rule has an exception. Let us hope that the goodness of Myrna and the patience of Nicolas will not convert the exception ... into rule.

Please help us to apply these visiting hours. This is imperative to ensure Myrna and her family a minimum of intimacy and peace, peace which is also needed for personal prayer.

As for father Joseph Malouli, we are happy to see him nearly everyday in Soufanieh, taking up his "supervisor" post in prayer. We regret, as much as he does, his vigorous health of yesteryears.

I apologize for the length of this circular. Thanks to all of you who pray heartfully for Myrna and her family. Thanks to all those who also pray heartfully for Syria and the Arab World. Thanks to those who pray for Peace in the whole world and for the Unity of Hearts and the Unity of the Church.

May the New Year 1997 bring upon us all Peace and Joy that ONLY God can give us.

Father Elias Zahlaoui

 
 
P.S. For all practical purposes, here are the co-ordinates of the Associations of Our Lady of Soufanieh:
 

In France:
Mr Guy et Mme Mylène Fourman
34 Allée des Châtaigniers
60150 Villers-sur Coudun
FRANCE
Tél et Fax: ( 00.33.01.44. 76.57.04)

In Holland:
R.P. Johannès Touw
ABDIJ SINT BENEDICTUSBERG
MAMELIS- VAALS
NL - 6295 NA LEMIERS
HOLLAND
Fax: (00.31.44.54.66.368)

In the United States of America:

Our Lady of Soufanieh Prayer Group
c/o : Father George D. Gage
St-Mary's Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church
7782 Glenwood Ave.
Boardman, Ohio 44512-5823
U.S.A.
Tel: (330) 726-8573
Fax: (330) 726-4102
Internet: Soufanieh@AOL.COM

Christian Unity Association
c/o : Father Sami Baroody
St-Ann's Greek-Melkite Catholic Church
802 Rifle Road Camp
West Paterson, New Jersey 07424
U.S.A.
Tel: (201) 785-4414
Fax: (201) 890-9599

In Canada:

Association Notre-Dame de Soufanieh à Montréal
955 - 40th avenue
Lachine, P.Q.
H8T 2G7
CANADA
Tel:  514 634 0371
Fax:  514 639 1587
Internet: soufanieh@sympatico.ca