Damascus, January 5th, 2000.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ;

 

I am happy to issue today this circular which happens to be the first one I write this year. 

 

I know that many of you are expecting it and I ask you to forgive me for this long silence.

 

I know that you are awaiting news of our dear father Joseph Malouli.  He does not write any more due to his poor health. [1]

 

Today as in my previous circulars, I shall outline the main events which have occurred at Soufanieh throughout the year.  Allow me, however, to remind you of what has become the daily "menu" of Soufanieh, namely:

 

-         personal prayer throughout the day, since the door of the house remains open to everyone

-         communal evening prayer, starting at 5pm in the winter and at 6pm in the summer

-         circumstancial communal evening prayer, on the eve of important feasts

-         increasing number of visitors from Syria and other places

-         the flow of letters solliciting prayer or assuring us of it, requesting some oil or pictures, recommending ailing people to us, calling for the unity of the church as well as for the unity of the Feast of Easter, praying for peace in the world and especially in the Near East

-         the continuous incoming telephone calls and faxes, convincing us that the Soufanieh home within its humble neighorhood, has become a meeting point and a place of conversion for many faithful throughout the world

-         Myrna's short trips in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt, on the specific request of a bishop or a priest, but always with the approval of the hierarchy

-         The oozing of oil from a reproduction of the Miraculous Icon, here and there and especially in Chicago, at Mr. Daoud Hanna's home, and this since July 14th 1994, without interruption, until this day.

-         The exudation of oil from Myrna's hands while praying at the "House of the Virgin Mary" or while praying during her trips or religious visits.

 

This is the general canvas of Soufanieh.  Let me remind you that absolute gratuitousness remains and will always remain the basis of any action or activity pertaining to Soufanieh.  As for the main events of 1999, I shall only mention four of them:

 

1.                  The testimonial trips of Myrna

2.                  Nicolas' open heart surgery (Myrna's husband)

3.                  The 17th anniversary celebrations in Damascus and in Canada

4.                  The inauguration of the Centre of "OUR LADY OF SOUFANIEH for Christian Unity" in Rome

 

1. The testimonial trips of Myrna

 

Trips to Holland, Portugal and France (24-25 January)

 

Myrna was invited to Portugal by the "Association of the Renewal of the Christian Family" located in the town of Coimbra with the approval of its bishop.  I accompanied her during that three-stage trip:

 

Holland (January 14th - 16th )

 

We spent two days in Holland as guests of the Benedictine Monks of Vaals, whose Prior has long been interested in Soufanieh and has travelled there several times.  Two noticeable events occurred during that visit:

 

-         oil exuded abundantly from Myrna's hands, towards the end of a prayer held jointly by father Johannes-M. Touw and thirty other members of his community, in the visitor's section of the Abbey itself.

 

-         A meeting took place that same evening between Myrna and a group of about 15 monks.  During the exchange, one was impressed by the depth of the monks' questions as well as by the transparency of Myrna's answers.  I acted as a translator.

 

Portugal (January 16th - 22nd )

 

The program included four conferences: two in Lisbon on 17 and 21 January, a third one in Coimbra on the 19th and a fourth one in Porto on the 20th.  Each of these four conferences ended with abundant exudation of oil from Myrna's hands.

 

The deep and simple faith of the Portuguese impressed us.  Their country is rich in pilgrimage sites. However, Fatima remains, undoubtedly, the most beautiful and impressive one.

 

We had the grace of celebrating several masses with numerous Portuguese priests in the Carmel in Coimbra, where Sister Lucie, one of the three visionnaries of Fatima, is living.  A long profound interview was granted to us by the Carmelites, but it was impossible for us to see Sister Lucie, even during Mass, because she was bed-ridden.

 

France (Paris) (January 23rd - 25th)

 

Myrna retuned to Damascus on the night of the 22nd.  I, myself, left Lisbon for Paris on the morning of the 23rd with our Canadian friend Gabriel Berberian who has, since 1993, videotaped many of the Soufanieh events.  He is credited for building the web site dedicated to Our Lady of Soufanieh on the Internet.

 

On the eve of the 23rd, I gave a conference in Paris, on Soufanieh, at the church "St-Étienne du Mont".[2]

 

On Monday the 25th, I returned to Damascus.

 

Trips to Jordan (March 11th - 14th )

 

Myrna was invited there by the Very Reverend Hikmat Haddadine, a Greek-Catholic priest from Karak; the latter had obtained the authorization of his bishop Msgr George Murr.  I accompanied Myrna on her trip.

 

The visit followed the beautiful spirit of understanding and co-operation, which lives in all the priests of that region, whether they are Melkite, Latin or Orthodox.

 

All the churches from the Karak, Adr, Homoud and Smakié district opened their doors and welcomed all the local faithful as well as the ones from Aqaba, Foubeis and the capital, Amman.  There were five celebrations, two Acathist services and three masses.

 

Three times, oil exuded from Myrna's hands. 

 

Needless to describe the reaction of the crowds not to mention the ones of the priests. 

 

It seems to me however, in retrospect, and through the testimonies of several priests and the many letters received since then, that this visit had a very impressive spiritual impact.

 

2. Nicolas, Myrna's husband, undergoes heart surgery

 

On June 2nd, Nicolas suffered a serious cardiac malaise.  It was quickly decided that he must be operated on.  This took place in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on June 14th.  He, first, convalesced in Amman, then in Damascus and finally in Lebanon.  On September 1st, he resumed work at the "Oasis of Hope".


I mention this fact for two reasons:

 

-         Nicolas does not belong to himself anymore.  He tries, since the beginning of the Soufanieh events, to adjust himself loyally to the Will of the Lord.  This has been and still is a very costly endeavour.

 

-         The spiritual experience which Nicolas, Myrna and some Soufanieh faithful have gone through, during that trial, far exceeds the weight of the trial itself, when one discovers the permanent and delicate care which God has been bestowing upon them.

 

3. Celebrations of the 17th anniversary

 

Numerous Soufanieh faithful attended this anniversary.  The network of faith, love and unity woven by the Virgin Mary throughout the world, in such a short time, is very impressive.  However, let me briefly mention the celebrations which took place in Damascus and in Montreal (Canada).

 

Damascus

 

A first celebration took place on Thursday November 25th at 5pm at St-Joseph's church in Douéla, a southern outskirt of Damascus.  Msgr Isidore Battikha, vicar of the Melkite Patriarcate, presided over the Holy Mass, accompanied by about ten Catholic priests from Syria and Lebanon, as well as by two French priests, Joseph Besnier and Léon Reboul.  Msgr Isidore Battikha's homily was entirely focused on the Soufanieh messages related to the unity of the Church and the unity of the Feast of Easter.

 

Also present were a coptic-orthodox priest as well as the Archmandrite Msgr Eugene N. Pappas from Brooklyn (NY, USA), one of the main assistants to the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. At the end of the mass, Msgr Pappas delivered a speech on the main message of Soufanieh, namely unity.  Then he began to sing a hymn to the Holy Spirit.  Just before the end of the hymn, oil exuded abundantly from Myrna's hands.  Msgr Pappas returned that same evening to Beyrouth (Lebanon) on his way to New York via Paris.

 

The second celebration took place at the "House of the Virgin Mary" on Wednesday, November 26th; the prayer was continuous from 4pm to 11pm.  It was shared between the various groups of Arab and non-Arab pilgrims, the majority of the latter being French and Belgian.  At 11pm, father Boulos (Paul) Fadel, surrounded by several priests, celebrated the Holy Mass in the patio of the house.  Msgr Isidore Battikha was present and  delivered the homily, which sounded more like an incentive to the faithful to demand the unity of the Feast of Easter. 

 

At the end of the mass, the anniversary cake was cut and people started singing "Happy Birthday Mary" in several languages when, all of a sudden, oil oozed abundantly from Myrna's hands.  It was twenty-five minutes past midnight.  All of those celebrations were, of course, videotaped. 

 

I must mention that the various non-Arab groups came to Soufanieh as pilgrims and not as tourists.  They, therefore, spent all their time praying and meditating in Soufanieh.

 

Montreal, Canada

 

When one sees the program established to celebrate the 17th anniversary of Soufanieh, between November 24th and December 15th, one may think that it is Montreal and not Damascus, which had the privilege to live such a phenomenon since 1982.  Judge for yourself:

 

-A solemn mass was celebrated on November 24th, by Msgr Sleiman El-Hajjar, Greek-Catholic bishop for Canada.[3]

 

-Radio Ville-Marie, in Montreal, devoted a daily programme, from November 22nd to November 26th, for the prayer of the Rosary in five languages (French, English, Armenian, Italian and Arabic).[4]  The meditation of the mysteries were inspired from the messages of Soufanieh.

 

-Sunday, December 5th, a solemn mass was celebrated in the Romanian Catholic church at 5pm.  This was followed by showing a video on Soufanieh as well as by a lengthy conference on Christian unity.

 

-Wednesday, December 8th, there was on Radio Ville-Marie, a ninety-minute program on Soufanieh, hosted by Mr. Gilbert Charron with Mr. Melhem Mobarak.

 

-Wednesday, December 15th, a solemn mass was celebrated in honor of Our Lady of Soufanieh, at the Italian Sisters' school in Montreal.[5]  Beforehand, a meditated Rosary was prayed, inspired by the messages of Soufanieh.

 

You must admit that such a program, which honors our brothers and sisters in Canada, is likely to kindle some fire in many of us while raising some remorse in others!


5. The inauguration of the Center  "Nostra Signora di Soufanieh (and the blessing of the statue of Padre Pio) for Christian unity and inter-religious dialogue on the threshhold of the third millennium" in Rome (Via Aurelia 737). [6]

 

This Center was the personal initiative of Msgr Luigi Accogli, former Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus.  The idea sprang up while celebrating his farewell mass in Soufanieh itself, towards the end of 1993.  It had a triple aim:  (1) to publicize Soufanieh, (2) to promote ecumenical prayer and (3) to promote inter-religious dialogue.

 

The Center was inaugurated on October 15th, 1999, in the presence of a large crowd at the head of which, one could see His Excellency, Cardinal Epilio Rossi and His Excellency, Msgr Vincenzo Tricarico.

 

Myrna had been invited to attend.  Her husband Nicolas could not accompany her, as he had to remain with his children, Myriam and John-Emmanuel.

 

However, Msgr Luigi Accogli had the excellent idea to invite Mr. Gabriel Berberian, who took it upon himself to document everything on videotape. 

 

During that week of prayers and meetings, oil exuded several times from Myrna's hands. 

 

She also made sure to write her diary.

 

In conlusion

 

To conclude, I thought of quoting, to everyone's joy, some extracts from the many letters received.  I shall however, limit myself to two small paragraphs taken from two letters: one from France, the other from Romania.

 

The letter from France is signed by father Joseph Besnier, priest at La Ferté Gaucher near Paris.  It reads: "Merry and Holy Feast of Christmas!  To you, your families and to all the friends of Soufanieh!  Your house speaks so much to us about the Manger of Bethlehem!  Thank you for what you are to us.  We pray for you and we hug you."

 

The letter from Romania comes from Timisoara and is signed by Mrs. Nathalie Bindea.  It reads: "Thank God, we have just finished the translation into Romanian of the huge 500-page book on Soufanieh.  We are very happy about it.  Now we need the printing authorization of the Parisian publisher, which we await impatiently."

 

Finally, let me give you this bit of good news.  This evening, January 5th, eve of the Epiphany, we were praying in Soufanieh, as of 8pm.  At 8:25pm, just as we were finishing our prayer with the blessing of the water, oil exuded from Myrna's hands.  Alleluia!

 

How could we ever thank the Lord and His All-Holy Mother for all the graces that they have bestowed upon us gratuitously since November 1982?

 

Let us not forget to also pray for peace in the whole world.

 

I reiterate all the affection of your brothers and sisters in Damascus.

 

Signed: 

 

Father Élias Zahlaoui

            Vicar, Parish of Our Lady of Damascus

            Koussour

            Damascus - Syria

Tel.  00963-11-4450-999

Fax. 00963-11-2245-816

 

____________

Note:

 

Please circulate the petition for Christian unity and the unity of the Feast of Easter.

 

 

[ This is a translation of the original French bulletin ]



[1] He died on March 5th, 2000, after a long illness.

[2] During the week for Christian unity.

[3] Six priests from various denominations concelebrated the Divine Liturgy.  Over 600 people were present.

 

[4] Thanks to Mr. Jean-Marie Champagne, permanent deacon, member of the Catholic association which publishes the monthly newspaper entitled: "Jésus, Marie et Notre Temps".

 

[5] In the Augustin Roscelli primary school.  Mother Superior, Sister Marie-Inès Fini, asked their chaplain, (Abbott Giuseppe Ronco, Superior of the Fathers of the Consolata) to celebrate the divine liturgy.  Afterwards, a video on Our Lady of Soufanieh was presented.  This video was the Italian version of the popular TV-programme: "Second Regard - Notre-Dame de Soufanieh (1997)" .  Finally, a large cake was cut on the occasion of the upcoming third Millenium and the Holy Father's Jubilee.

[6] Details and photos are found on our website:  http://www.soufanieh.com