«REMEMBER GOD», by Father Elias Zahlaoui (1997)
Translated and updated by "Association Notre-Dame-de-Soufanieh à Montréal" in Montreal, Canada from the original french book.
Copyright 1997, Association Notre-Dame de Soufanieh, Montréal,
All rights reserved worldwide.
PART ONE: MESSAGES FROM JESUS CHRIST AND THE HOLY VIRGIN MARY TO MYRNA NAZZOUR OF SOUFANIEH, DAMASCUS, SYRIA.
Second apparition, First message
Third apparition, Second message
Fourth apparition, Third message
Fifth apparition, Fourth
The ecstasies, First period -
October 28, 1983 - November 26, 1985
The ecstasies, Second period -
November 26, 1986 - August 14, 1987
The ecstasies, A turning point -
September 7, 1987 - November 26, 1987
The ecstasies, Third period -
August 14, 1988 - October 10, 1988
The ecstasies, Fourth period -
November 26, 1988 - November 26, 1990
PART TWO: THE IMPACT
Ongoing effects of Soufanieh
The importance of prayer
Familiarity with God
The motherhood of Mary
Servant of the Lord
The sanctity of marriage
A page from the Gospel
Without Me, you can do nothing
Against material temptations
Some varied reactions
The sign of Oil
The mystery of Grace
The events of Soufanieh and my life as a priest
The Unity of the Church
The Christians of Syria
In the midst of the Arab world
An invitation to look to the future
Future plans under the Lord's care
All brothers in Christ
The Soufanieh Phenomenon spreading throughout the world
Your heart is what matters most
An exceptional manifestation of God
The love I have for the Church
The Soufanieh events began in a small Christian suburb of Damascus on Saturday, November 27, 1982, the night before the first Sunday of Advent, when a small image of the Holy Virgin, in the house of newlyweds Nicolas and Myrna Nazzour, started exuding oil. After that, oil started oozing from Myrna's hands and several parts of her body. Finally, since December 15, 1982, Myrna received messages from the Holy Virgin and Jesus Christ, during apparitions and ecstasies.
It is through the messages given at Soufanieh that we can really understand why the Lord is multiplying the signs. It is necessary to read the messages entirely, to ponder them carefully, in order to understand, to the extent that our little minds can, the full significance of these events.
It is not up to us to try to determine the meaning of these messages, because this meaning is in the heart of the One who has instigated them. And this is the heart of God Himself. When the people saw the oil, their immediate reaction was to pray. Of course, some people criticized, some refused to believe, some thought themselves intelligent. And some people continue to act in this way, although fewer and fewer. But we do not discover the deep meaning of the messages because God is revealing it to us.
First, we saw the oil and immediately prayed. Then, slowly, we noticed new aspects of the phenomenon through the messages given by the Holy Virgin and Jesus Christ to Myrna, during apparitions and ecstasies.
And it is through these messages that we can receive the word of the
Lord and understand the real significance of the Soufanieh phenomenon.
References to the Messages in this book are in italics. To emphasize a point, we used bold characters. References to books/magazines are underlined. The terms 'Greek-orthodox' referred to in this book refers to Orthodox Christians from the Antiochian Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria; while 'Greek-catholic' refers to Catholic Christians from the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria.
The real meaning of the Soufanieh phenomenon appears already from the first message given by the Holy Virgin, during the second apparition. I say the first message and the second apparition because during the first apparition, Myrna was so frightened that she ran away. Her sister-in-law, Helen, who thought that Myrna had gone mad, slapped her in the face. And the Holy Virgin, of course, did not say anything to Myrna.
But three days later, on the eve of December 18, 1982, the Holy Virgin appeared again to Myrna. Myrna had been prepared by prayer to greet Her. And it is then that the Holy Virgin gave Myrna a message, whose content, I would say, constitutes the program, or one of the many aspects of this program, that can be considered as the meaning of the events at Soufanieh. It is enough to read it entirely, by highlighting the main points, to see that, in fact, this message is quite a program.
My children, Remember God, because God is with us. You know all things and yet you know nothing. Your knowledge is an incomplete knowledge. But the day will come when you will know all things the way God knows Me. Do good to those who do evil. And do not harm anyone. I have given you oil more than you have asked for, but I shall give you something much more powerful than oil. Repent and have faith, and remember Me in your joy. Announce My Son the Emmanuel. He who announces Him is saved, and he who does not announce Him, his faith is vain. Love one another. I am not asking for money to give to churches, nor for money to distribute to the poor. I am asking for love. Those who distribute their money to the poor and to churches, but have no love, those are nothing. I shall visit homes more often, because those who go to church, sometimes, do not go there to pray. I am not asking you to build Me a church, but a shrine. Give. Do not turn away anyone who asks for help.
This is quite a program. God. God with us. Return to God, He is with us. Whether we want it or not, He is with us. He is the Emmanuel.
Secondly, what makes men distinctive is their knowledge. And Men, in the name of knowledge and science, very often thought they could manage without God. And the Holy Virgin has told us that, in fact, we have knowledge. We know, as we believe, everything. But, in fact, we know nothing. We know a lot about earthly matters, and yet there is a lot we do not know about it. But we know nothing about the other world, except what God unveils to us, as was said by Saint John. And this is why the Holy Virgin repeated a sentence that has already been said two thousand years ago: But the day will come when you will know all things the way God knows Me. This is what Saint Paul said (see 1 Cor. 13:12). Therefore, we will reach complete knowledge in the other world.
A third thing: What is the purpose of our presence on Earth? Do good to those who do evil. Evil is everywhere in this world. If there is anything that singles out the Christian, it is that, as was said by Saint Paul, he overcomes evil with good (see Rom. 12:21). And the Holy Virgin told us: Do good to those who do evil. And do not harm anyone. We can find a thousand reasons to do evil. The Holy Virgin told us: "No more. No more evil." I have given you oil [...], but I shall give you something much more powerful than oil. In fact, as we discovered later, the oil served only as a bait, as one throws a hook to catch a fish. And the Lord has taken us, to lead us slowly to something much more beautiful. Beyond the oil, was He. He is love. His presence with us. And the consequence of this love and presence, is the love that we must show each other.
And immediately, the Holy Virgin stressed repentance: Repent and have faith. Before God, we must repent. Have faith, and remember Me in your joy. This is very significant. Usually, we only ask for God's help when we are in pain or anguish. When we are joyous, we do not think about Him much. But: Remember Me in your joy. If we truly remember God in our joy, this joy will be quite different from the world's joy. It will be purer, more wholesome, more liberating, more loving. Therefore, the Holy Virgin does not simply want us to remember God. In Arabic, to remember God, means, before thinking of Him, to praise Him. It means to recognize His magnitude, His love. Therefore, it means to live in His presence. This is the Arabic word "zekroullah."
Then, the Holy Virgin, after this request to return to God, to our humility as humbleness as human beings who know, after this compelling call to do good, to abstain from doing evil, after this call to repent, to have faith, to remember God in our joy, the Holy Virgin reminds us of one essential thing, especially in the Arab world: Announce. Announce My Son the Emmanuel. In the Middle East, the Church has long rested on established positions, which it is slowly losing. Simply in terms of the faithful. And the Church has ceased to think about the possibility of evangelizing non-Christian groups. The Church is already having trouble Christianizing the small number of Christians in the Middle East. How could it accomplish a mission beyond that? But the Holy Virgin told us: Announce My Son the Emmanuel. He who announces Him is saved, and he who does not announce Him, his faith is vain. This brings us back to what Jesus said two thousand years ago: "Go forth!" Our mission as Christians is to spread the message.
Immediately after, the Holy Virgin calls us to love. To reciprocal, mutual love: Love one another. She did not specify: "Christians." She simply said: Love one another.
Then, immediately, She addressed an issue that has troubled the Church for two thousand years: money. The Holy Virgin said in Her first message: I am not asking for money [...]. I am asking for love. How many times have we used money as an excuse or a kind of escape far away from God, wherein we give the Church money and continue to lead our own lives. The Holy Virgin said: "No. Set money aside." And this is where we truly see how Nicolas and Myrna, in their very simple sense of freedom from the material, a spontaneous sense at the beginning of the phenomenon, we see how well they were already meeting the demand of the Holy Virgin. And they continue until now to refuse any money, with absolute intransigence. I am asking for love. God is Love. He does not need anything but love. The Holy Virgin is the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus. She does not need anything but love. She told us so, right from the beginning of Her program, in Her first message.
Then, She said: I shall visit homes more often. He who loves goes forth to the other. The Incarnation is God's visit to humanity, because He has loved mankind. The Holy Virgin, who continues to love mankind because She is the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, will come to visit us. This sentence remained incomprehensible to us. How will the Holy Virgin come to visit us? But, from the day the oil started oozing from many images of the icon in Soufanieh, in the houses of Christians as well as Muslims, in Damascus and elsewhere, and when people started praying before the image that had given them this sign (oil), since that day, we realized that the Holy Virgin had truly started visiting us, in a tangible manner. The Lord does not make idle pronouncements.
Then the Holy Virgin deemed that it would be very risky to want to build a big church for Her, as happens everywhere, because then, we might focus on gathering money to build, and then forget man, who is the Temple of God and the most important thing in the sight of the Lord. And that is why She said: I am not asking you to build Me a church, but a shrine. She explained during a later ecstasy that, for this shrine or place of prayer, a stone from the arch of the house's front door should be removed, to leave room for an icon of the Holy Virgin, with a brief message of thanks and recognition to Jesus. And that is what was done. A pane of glass was placed over it, with a small lamp to illuminate the icon night and day. Frequently, passers-by stop to pray, or even kneel on the sidewalk and pray. I have often seen people, even youngsters, kneeling down on the sidewalk, having come in the evening and found the door of the house closed. They kneeled and prayed on the sidewalk. It is a place of prayer, and nothing more.
And the Holy Virgin ended Her message by saying: Give. Do not turn away anyone who asks for help. God is a gift. God is a gift, or He is nothing. And to truly be a child of God, we must give. Myrna and Nicolas understood that right from the beginning. They opened their door. And as yet, they have not refused a single request. Even at night, when someone arrives at their door, regardless of the hour, they open the door. They give what they can. First they greet people, with extraordinary patience and a magnificent smile. Then, they fade into the background. They become totally selfless, without any pretensions or vanity. They introduce people to the icon and then they fade into the background. And if no one asks them questions, they leave the people with the Holy Virgin. God comes first.
Therefore, you can see that even in this first message, there is a program of sort. For me, this is the meaning of the events at Soufanieh. Of course, afterwards, there were other messages that clarified this meaning even more. Jesus requested the unity of His Church, and the Holy Virgin requested the unity of the Body of Her Son. And these requests were made with moving words. Deeply moving. The Lord reminded us that He was crucified out of love for mankind, and that He wants those who believe in Him to bear His cross, willingly, with patience and love. He reminded us also that there is no salvation without crucifixion; that the Church is His kingdom on Earth. This Church, however it may be. With all its positive and negative sides. This is His kingdom on Earth. He accepts Man as he is. He has made him His receptacle, and with this human substance, He has built His Church. And He said to mankind: "Take Me to all Men, through all ages." And when the Lord said, first through the Holy Virgin's mouth, then twice through His own messages: The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He who has divided it has sinned. And he who has rejoiced from its division has also sinned; by saying that, He reminded us of one essential thing: The Church is the kingdom of God. It is God, Himself, present on Earth. This is one of the main messages of Soufanieh.
Before analyzing the second message, I would like to add something about the second sentence of the first message: You know all things and yet you know nothing. Your knowledge is an incomplete knowledge. I would like to say the following: The Holy Virgin recognizes that human beings do have some knowledge. She accepts the fact that we do have some knowledge. She also recognizes that knowledge is what makes man unique, and knowledge will finally lead mankind to God. But She told us in a very simple way: "Be humble in your knowledge. Whatever you know, in the end, you know nothing." And especially about the afterlife. What do we know about the afterlife? When people come to me with senseless ideas, quoting some theologians that the devil does not exist, that angels do not exist, and when youngsters say, "Father so-and-so told us such a thing," I reply, "Who has been to the other world to tell what exists there? Who, except Jesus?" For us, our reference point for knowledge is Jesus.
The Gospel says, and we know, that no one other than Jesus has been to the other world and come back to tell us about it. Jesus told us some things. Our little minds cannot determine anything conclusive. Let us accept that Jesus is revealing to us a part of this truth of which we are totally unaware but that one day we will know completely. The Holy Virgin promises us, as did Saint Paul, that one day we will have knowledge almost as complete as God's: You will know all things the way God knows Me. This is therefore a promise that man will be elevated to an absolutely unthinkable level. God promises that He will elevate us because He is great and He is capable of making us great. We are not capable of doing so. Not at all. Therefore, the Holy Virgin urges us to seek the truth, to increase our knowledge, but to be humble in this search and to recognize that only God has the complete truth. And only He is capable of giving us the truth. He will give it to us in totality when we will be in "the other world," if I can use this expression. But for the time we are here, He tells us: "Work hard. Accumulate knowledge. But recognize that your knowledge remains lesser than God's." Do you understand?
And this is particularly true for us people from the Middle East, especially
for us, Arabs. We have suffered a terrible past, and we are suffering now
from such a burden at all levels that we came to believe that only science
could save us. And many continue to believe that. For them, nothing exists
except science. Therefore, they say, let us accumulate scientific information,
increase our knowledge, and we will solve all our problems. But, in fact,
we will not solve all our problems like that. Not at all. We should not
turn science into a new god. Science has its place. But only God is God.
And that is why I particularly like the assertion of Muslims: "La ilaha
illallah -- There is no God besides God." But we have created so many gods
that we have ended up concluding, often with great unhappiness, that the
real God does not exist. Or considering God to be one of many gods, including
science and worldliness. No! This is why the Holy Virgin started by telling
us: Remember God. To remember God does not just mean to remember
that He exists. It means to glorify Him, to recognize Him, to recognize
ourselves humbly in front of Him, to ask for His grace, to live in His
Third apparition, Second message
Saturday, January 8, 1983
The second message given by the Virgin Mary, during the third apparition, is a message that might sound very bizarre. Here is a literal translation: The Virgin was crying. She told Myrna: "It's all right." The Holy Virgin said it in Arabic dialect: "Maa'leche. It's all right." "Maa'leche" is an expression that we hear every day, hundreds of times. Ask a man in difficulty: "How are things going?" He'll answer, "Maa'leche," which means "It's okay. I'll get through it." The Holy Virgin told Myrna, while she was crying: "Maa'leche." The text continues: Myrna was also crying, while shouting, "The Virgin is crying!" At last, the Virgin withdrew, but before disappearing, She smiled softly. That is what Myrna told us. She did not realize that while seeing the Virgin Mary, she was shouting, "The Virgin Mary is crying!" and she was crying also.
This message might seem surprising. Why did the Holy Virgin say, "It's all right," the night before the icon was moved to the church? (1) Nevertheless, the transfer was ordered by the Antiochian Patriarch Ignatius Hazim IV, and was accepted by the family.
Nicolas had hoped that instead of the image being taken only to the neighboring Orthodox church, it would also be taken to different churches, in rotation. But, I convinced him to concede to the desire of the Patriarch, presenting him the following arguments: "Nicolas, the Church brings us closer to Jesus and Mary. The Church, for you, now, is the Orthodox Church. In the person of the Patriarch. Therefore, if the Patriarch tells you something, it is as if the Lord Himself is telling you. Beside what the Church says, we know nothing. The Church is responsible for the deposit of the Faith, the Gospel, the Sacraments, and even Jesus; the Church takes care of us. We cannot make our own reality in the name of Jesus. Therefore, you will do what the Patriarch asks, as if this request came directly from the Lord. And, as long as the Patriarch wants the icon to be placed in this church, you will say, 'Let it be."
I also presented him with the following arguments: "The simple fact that the icon is being taken solemnly to the church, and displayed, is already a recognition of the phenomenon. And this is a great thing in itself, especially for public opinion. A third point: This will give you a little break. It will allow you to rest. After your vigil of 45 days and nights without sleep, you have the right to rest. And fourthly, perhaps the presence of the Holy Virgin's icon in an Orthodox Church might lead to ecumenical prayers like the ones that started at your house."
After presenting these four arguments, Nicolas said, "Father, enough said. I agree totally." And the image was moved to the Church. But the night before the icon was moved, the Holy Virgin cried. Myrna and Nicolas did not tell me that until a few days later.
When they told me, I said to myself, "The Lord and the Holy Virgin know
things that we do not know. What does the future hold for us? Trust the
Lord and Mary, and wait patiently." What happened later, i.e. the return
of the icon to the house of Nicolas and Myrna in the utmost secrecy, and
the silence observed until now by the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate
provided us, we thought, with a partial explanation. Ultimately, all is
Fourth apparition, Third message
Monday, February 21, 1983
I am now at the third message, which expands on the second one. This third message was given a short while after the image was mysteriously returned to the house. Nicolas was shocked, and confronted the two priests who brought it back. He asked them, "What did the Holy Virgin do to be brought back like that? It's disgraceful." There was a violent dispute. Then, the two priests left the house. In the meantime, Father Joseph Malouli, a Lazarist priest, had arrived. Hearing loud voices coming from the living room, he remained outside, in the yard. When the two priests left, Nicolas told him what happened. He asked Nicolas if he could pray with Myrna before the image. They prayed a decade of the rosary. Then Father Malouli said this prayer to himself, which he revealed to us only afterwards: "Virgin Mary, enlighten us so that we will not do anything that might jeopardize your program." A little later, he saw Myrna leaving the room. He finished his prayer and left the room. He was told that she was on the rooftop terrace. He went upstairs and saw her kneeling. Members of her family were also there.
Suddenly, he heard Myrna pronouncing words as if she were hearing and repeating what was being said to her. The message was given in Arabic dialect, and consisted of two distinct parts. We kept the first part secret for at least two years because its content was very harsh. The message said this: My children. You see, always this word: My children. Let it be said between us. It sounded like a mother speaking to her children. I have come back here. Do not insult the haughty who are devoid of humility. The humble person craves for other people's remarks to correct his shortcomings, while the corrupt and haughty neglects, rebels, becomes hostile. Forgiveness is the best thing. As much as we were charitable, as much as we tried to be truly charitable and understanding, we could not fail to see in these words a bitter reproach. But also a very beautiful invitation from the Holy Virgin for us not to rebel, not to attack, not to accuse, but to forgive. He who pretends to be pure and loving before people, is impure before God. This is the first part of the message, that we kept secret for two years.
The second part is a whole set of rules for living, also received in Arabic dialect. I would like to request something from you. It is said in a simple Arabic that leaves the reader confused before the Holy Virgin. Because the Holy Virgin is imploring Her children to do something: I would like to request something from you. It sounded as if someone from lower rank were requesting something from someone higher up. A word that you will engrave in your memory, that you shall always repeat: God saves me, Jesus enlightens me, the Holy Spirit is my life, thus I fear nothing. Is it not so, My son Joseph?
There are two extraordinary things here. First, the manner in which the Virgin Mary asks Her children to realize that: It is God. Do not fear men. God is life, God is light. Do not fear anyone but Him: He is Salvation. Therefore, do not forget Him. And the second thing: Is it not so, My son Joseph? That same morning, an ecclesiastical superior told me personally that I was forbidden from going to Soufanieh. Rumors were circulating that the government would have used me to make a big deal of Soufanieh in order to divert people's attention from the country's problems! It surely took someone with quite an imagination to invent that! I accepted this order, but felt at the same time peaceful and hurt. And I informed Myrna, Nicolas and my colleague Father Malouli that I would no longer come to Soufanieh. However, that evening, when the Holy Virgin told Father Malouli: Is it not so, My son Joseph?, Father Malouli felt directly concerned in a way that kept him permanently involved in Soufanieh.
I believe that this message addressed to Father Malouli constituted a major turning point in the whole phenomenon. Because Father Malouli was a priest who had lived in Damascus since 1940. Beyond all suspicion. A man of such integrity and honesty as I had never seen before, frankly. And an old man. No one would have accused him of having a special affection for Myrna, as had been said about me. Moreover, given his personality and his educational background, Father Malouli had always been allergic to supernatural phenomena. He was known to have fought fiercely against numerous manifestations of "supernatural events" that had occurred in Damascus since 1940.
On the other hand, although I knew him before, I realized afterwards that Father Malouli was miles ahead of me in terms of his theological studies. Miles ahead. Finally, he had something that I don't have. Having a very good memory, I did not write anything down, because I kept everything in my mind -- or I thought I did, but in fact I didn't. But I did not realize that if I continued that way, after a while I would skip many details about the Soufanieh phenomenon. From the very beginning, Father Malouli recorded everything in writing. Everything. Almost second by second. To the extent that he succeeded in developing a file so detailed that a psychoanalysis professor who teaches in Belgium, Germany and the USA, said, "I have presented the file prepared by Father Malouli as being the best scientific file that I ever seen." This occurred because of the notes that Father Malouli took day by day, minute by minute, second by second, something I never would have thought of doing. Or perhaps I would have thought about it a few months later, but by then I would have forgotten a lot.
So my departure was beneficial for Soufanieh, because it allowed for the presence of Father Malouli, a really exceptional priest. And the Holy Virgin, there, asking Father Malouli through the message, Is it not so, My son Joseph? gave him an answer, something that we did not understand on the spot but that he explained to us afterward by revealing to us the prayer he said just before this message from Mary.
It is therefore the message of February 21, 1983, that has kept Father Malouli involved in Soufanieh. And his presence in Soufanieh has been an influential factor. Here is an example. In 1984, I went to Boston, USA, where I spent two days at the house of Antoine Horanieh, a friend from Damascus who is a doctor in pharmacology. The first evening, he entertained a group of Syrian friends. Emigrated young men, unfortunately, who live in the United States. They spent the whole evening, until two o'clock in the morning, listening to me talk about Soufanieh. They were listening like children. Then, while I was speaking, one of them, whom I had never seen before but who had been a pupil of Father Malouli, asked me, "Father, are there any priests other than you?" I understood. Listening to such statements, even if one had facts, even with the full confidence in a person, one might wonder, "Is he exaggerating? Is he going off the deep end? What is he telling us?" I understood, and I replied, "Yes, there is Father Malouli." He quickly exclaimed, "Good, if it's Father Malouli, that's it!" That is to say, there was no longer any doubt.
Forbear and forgive. Once again, forgiveness. Forbear much less than the Father has forborne. The word Father, in Arabic, "El Ab," means God the Father. At the time, we did not understand it. It was only later, through other messages, that we understood what the Holy Virgin had said, as in other apparitions like La Salette (France) and Medjugorje (former Yugoslavia): "The Father's arm has become too heavy, and I can no longer hold it back." That was said. However, in the message of August 18, 1989, the Holy Virgin said to Myrna: Tell everyone to pray more because they need prayer to please the Father.
And She gave us to understand, on February 21, 1983, that the Father
forbears too much. No matter how much we forbear, it is nothing compared
to what He forebears, because of us. This message is directly related to
the messages of La Salette (France), Lourdes (France), Medjugorje (Former
Yugoslavia) and those of other places: The Lord is urging us to pray. And,
on November 26, 1985, without clarifying what was said by the Holy Virgin,
or what was intimated and then clarified later, Jesus said to Myrna: Go
to the land where corruption has prevailed, and remain in God's peace.
The prevalence of corruption, therefore, gives us to understand clearly
that God is unhappy.
Fifth apparition, Fourth message
Thursday, March 24, 1983
And now we get to the message of March 24, 1983. This message responds to a popular intuition that people frequently repeated. It is about unity of the Church, the call to unity of the Church. However, for a while, many people had been asking themselves, "But what is the Holy Virgin trying to do? Is She trying to unify us?" Their reasoning was very simple: Myrna was a Greek Catholic and Nicolas was a Greek Orthodox. People therefore thought, "Perhaps the Holy Virgin is trying to unite us." This is very simple. So logical that it becomes disconcerting. But this intuition corresponded exactly to the Lord's will.
I will cite the example of a friend from Damascus, Adib Mousleh, a respected intellectual, a businessman, a former seminarian who has great love for Jesus and the Holy Virgin. Because of that, he published many books, and he distributed them for free, saying, "The words of truth must reach people." He used to travel sometimes, especially to Europe. Once, he received a visit from some Italian friends who spoke French fluently. He told them about Soufanieh, and took them there. And they asked him to write an article. So he wrote a nine-page article in French, dated February 9th, 1983. Imagine: February 9, many days before the message of March 24. However, he ended his article by saying, "Given what is happening in Soufanieh, and all that might happen there, one wonders if the Holy Virgin is not seeking to unify Her children. This would certainly be Her greatest miracle, if She succeeded in unifying us!" In the previous messages, the request of unity had not yet been revealed. Not at all. But, there was a popular intuition, mentioned in this article written by a friend who felt, like others, that all these signs perhaps foretold a will to unify the Church. A divine will.
I was present for the message of March 24, in an amazing way that I will now recount. It was in a period during which I had promised not to go to Soufanieh. And I had kept my promise. On the evening of March 18, Nicolas phoned me saying, "Father, please come!" I went and saw the oil oozing from the icon, in large quantities! All the people there were praying. The next day I came back and told my bishop about it. The following day also the oil continued to ooze all day. And we wondered why. Myrna came and asked me, "Father, is there a feast today?" I replied, "No. Not to my knowledge." She said, "That's impossible." In fact, during the first two years, oil oozed regularly during certain religious feasts: first at the feasts of Jesus and Mary, then at the feasts of some saints, like Saint Luke, Saint Joseph, etc. But this March 19th, I had forgotten that it was the feast of Saint Joseph. And for the Byzantine Church, it was the feast of the Holy Virgin of the Acathist, a very beautiful celebration. I had completely forgotten about it, and I said to Myrna, "I don't think that there is a feast today." She left, and returned with a sheet that she had torn from a calendar, and said, "But Father, look. It is the feast of Saint Joseph, and it is the feast of the Holy Virgin today, the feast of the Acathist." I said, "Oh! It's Father Malouli's birthday!" He was there. So I went over to him and said, "Happy birthday! The Holy Virgin found a beautiful way to wish you a happy birthday!" Then, I left the house quickly to keep my promise to the Patriarch and my bishop.
The evening of March 24, I was attending a play at the church and I had promised the producer that I would watch the entire play since it was the last showing. I had experience in music and drama. I had written plays that were published in Damascus by the Ministry of Culture and performed in Syria and elsewhere. I loved the theater. And that's where I was that evening. During the intermission, while I was speaking to the producer, a friend came to tell me, "Father, the Nazzours want to see you." "The Nazzours" meant Nicolas and his family. I could have told my friend that I would go later. Especially because of my promise to the producer to watch the entire play. What made me leave? I quickly turned to the producer and said, "I'm going to leave for about fifteen minutes, but I'll be back." My friend drove me to the Nazzour's house.
Nicolas' older brother opened the door and said, "They're on the rooftop terrace." I went up immediately. In the shadows, I discerned some people kneeling. I found myself a spot and kneeled. I was just behind Myrna. I made the sign of the cross, and after a short while, I heard Myrna saying words that clearly were not coming from her. Here is what she said: My children, My mission has ended. That night, the Angel told Me: "Blessed are thou amongst women." And I was only able to tell Him that "I am the Servant of the Lord." I am happy. I Myself do not deserve to tell you: "Your sins are forgiven." But My God has said it. Establish a church. I did not say: "Build a church." The Church that Jesus adopted is One Church, because Jesus is One. The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He who has divided it has sinned. And he who has rejoiced from its division has also sinned. Jesus built it. It was small. And when it grew, it became divided. He who divided it has no love in him. Gather! I tell you: "Pray, pray, and pray again!" How beautiful are My children when they kneel down, imploring. Do not fear, I am with you. Do not be divided as the great ones are. You, yourselves, will teach the generations THE WORD of unity, love and faith. Pray for the inhabitants of Earth and Heaven.
This was the fifth apparition and the fourth message of the Holy Virgin. Look how the Holy Virgin places Herself here as a servant. Always the same words: My children. We often tend to forget that we truly are the children of God and the Holy Virgin. My children, My mission has ended. The Holy Virgin is here to fulfil a mission and then withdraw. She remains the creature dependent upon the Creator. In spite of the greatness that the Lord has given Her, She knows Her limits. It is extraordinary to imagine.
This message worried us somehow. We thought that the Soufanieh phenomenon was perhaps going to end. My mission has ended. Maybe it was like Lourdes, where She appeared to Bernadette and then disappeared. Therefore... And this made us very sad, even though we were very happy to hear such a message. But we considered with great sadness the possibility that this atmosphere, this new life lived with God and with Mary, through Mary, was perhaps about to cease in a short time. We had trouble contemplating that it could end. Despite the fact that Father Malouli was saying that we were living in a dream state, that this was not the reality but a dream that we were living, in fact, we had trouble contemplating that this dream might soon cease. But the Holy Virgin reminded us that She was on a mission and that the mission was going to end. Of course, what ends in the eyes of God does not end in the same way for us. Mary had accomplished a mission, and She would accomplish other missions. This was later proven true.
That night, the Angel told Me: "Blessed are thou amongst women." In some Arabic translations of the Gospels, this sentence comes from the mouth of the angel. In other translations, it does not come from the mouth of the angel, but solely from the mouth of Elizabeth. This is why, when I heard this text, I rushed that same night to the church to look in the missal we use in mass celebrations, to see if this sentence was said by the angel or not. I said to myself that if we do not find this sentence to be said by the angel, in the Gospels we use today, many would profit from this gap to say: "You see? It's not true, it is not the angel who said that to the Holy Virgin. Therefore, it's not the Holy Virgin who is speaking." You can see why it was necessary to cover all the bases, to prevent all possible calculation, all possible accusations.
And I was only able to tell Him that "I am the Servant of the Lord." How humble is the Holy Virgin! What humility! What simplicity! Could She have said anything else? I was only able to... Do you see the structure of this sentence: only able to... She was so overjoyed that She was not able to say anything but: I am the Servant of the Lord.
I will not comment at length on this, but I would like to emphasize a point. Nowadays, it is in the best interest of the Church to imitate Mary by acting like a servant, and to cease wielding power. The Church should cease to wield power! The Church, wherever it is, will never really become a Church until it one day becomes a servant. Beginning by serving the smallest, the most deprived, the poorest people. As long as the Church wants to flirt with politics and power, it cannot be a servant! There will be servants in the Church because it is the kingdom. The Lord wants it to be that way. But the institution as such will putrefy, and rot, if the Church does not act as a servant.
Then the Holy Virgin said: I am happy. We are pleased to hear someone greater than us telling us: "I am happy." That reminds me of words attributed to Napoleon: "Soldiers, I am proud of you!" Did he say that or not? Anyway, when we studied the history of France, we were taught that Napoleon was able to motivate thousands of soldiers with small sentences of this type: "Soldiers, I am proud of you!" And the Holy Virgin said: I am happy! This is not just anybody. She is not a neighbor. She is not a nun. She is the Holy Virgin, who has told us: I am happy! This was a sort of recognition of our modest efforts at attempting to pray, to do what the Lord expects from us.
Very often, we did not know what to do. But now that we remembered some initiatives we had taken, some words pronounced, we said, "It was Him guiding us!" It was the Lord who had helped us to say such things, whereas in our stupidity, and perhaps our pride and our arrogance, we would have said or done just the contrary. It is He who prevented us from straying, from slipping, from being full of pride, and perhaps even from aborting the whole message. Once again, we deserve no credit. I am happy!
And after that, She had said something extraordinary: I Myself do not deserve to tell you: "Your sins are forgiven." But My God has said it. In fact, there were two extraordinary things. Before God, any lucid man recognizes his guilt. No matter how hard we try to hide, escape, justify, or seek human justification, deep inside our hearts, we always know we are guilty. We know we are guilty. And as we face this feeling of guilt, we need to know that we are forgiven. But not by just anyone. Men can forgive, but they do not know how deep is the wound, not from pride, but from the pain of sin. They can give the illusion of having forgiven. But man, although in a state of illusion, searching deep inside his heart, always finds the gaping wounds of his sins. Therefore, we were happy to know that we were forgiven, although if not through the sacrament of penance. This text might seem to be a breach of the sacrament of penance. The Lord is the One who forgives.
Within the Church, He wanted to forgive us through the sacrament of penance. But if He also wants, as in the Gospel, to say: "Your sins are forgiven," who can prevent Him from doing so? Therefore, to us, it was a consolation and a joy to know that we were forgiven, in spite of all our miseries, our weakness, and perhaps even our foolishness, committed because of Soufanieh or in relation to Soufanieh. And it is not Mary who forgives us, but Her God. The Virgin, who is the Mother of God, knows that She is always a creature, and that God is always God and that there is no other God than God. It is extraordinary to hear the Virgin Mary speaking so simply of truths that are so deep, total and dramatic.
And then, there was a sentence that clearly shook me: Establish a Church. I did not say: "Build a church." She certainly knows us, doesn't She. She knows us in all our miseries, our weakness and our temptations. Establish a Church. Initially, we reacted to this sentence, and we can always react, by saying, "But Jesus is the One who established the Church." He is the only one capable of doing so. Who are we to establish a Church? Moreover, the Church is already established. Jesus established it two thousand years ago. Why do we have to establish a Church now? And we can conclude, as others have concluded: "Therefore, it is not Mary, nor Jesus who has spoken; but someone else." And this someone else is the Devil. Therefore, there must be an error here, a diabolical interference. Some people have arrived at that conclusion.
But, looking closer into the truth, we realize how the Lord has a much more long-term view than we. In fact, we do not even see the tips of our own noses. But He sees everything. And when Mary said: Establish a Church, She did not deny the Church, because two minutes later she asserted: The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And it is Jesus who built the Church. But the Church has become divided. And because it is divided, because of this division, it is incapable of bearing witness to Jesus as it should do. Therefore, "I give you the order to remake a Church that is One and that is the Church of Jesus. The Church of Jesus exists, but people are so scattered now, dispersed and divided, that they do not constitute a Church."
And even if, compared to Middle Eastern countries, the Western countries claim that their Church is One and that it is the Church of Jesus, to be frank and honest with ourselves, and with the Lord and Mary, the Church is not what it should be. Only a united Church can bear witness to Jesus. And this is why Jesus said in His prayer after the Last Supper: "That they may all be one that the world may believe" (John 17:21). Who should the world believe? The various Catholic Churches? The various Orthodox Churches? The various Protestant Churches? The thousands of sects who speak in the name of Jesus? Who should the world believe? And when the Holy Virgin said: Establish a Church. I did not say: "Build a Church," Her words were clear enough for us to understand that She did not want a building. She has said it before: "No, I am not asking you to build Me a Church. I want a place of prayer." Establish a Church, that means to gather, to regroup the faithful to constitute the Church.
And the Holy Virgin specified then: "The Church that Jesus adopted is One Church." He would have adopted another Church. Regarding the word adopted, we wondered, "Was this the exact word that the Holy Virgin used?" We listened to the audio cassette again because, starting on February 21, 1983, Father Malouli recorded all the messages on a portable cassette recorder. He thought, "If there are other apparitions and other messages, we will be able to record them." In fact, everything was recorded. And we listened again to the recording. It clearly said: "The Church that Jesus adopted is One Church." He would have adopted another Church. He is the Beginning and the End. And the Church is One, because Jesus is One.
Of course, when it is a question of establishing a Church, we should agree on the meaning of the words. When contemplating establishing a Church, we must examine everything that now bears the name of "Church." Not calling into question the existing Churches, because they are the Body of Jesus Christ. But they are not what they should be. They must unite in order to bear witness to the unity of Jesus.
And that is what the Holy Virgin said to Myrna, six-and-a-half years later, on Sunday, November 26, 1989: My children, Jesus told Peter: You are the rock, and on it, I shall build My Church. As for Me, I tell you now: You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY. Therefore, ultimately, the Church is not the rock. It is not the various Churches, one beside the other, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox, the Greek Catholic, the Greek Orthodox, the Syrian Catholic, the Syrian Orthodox... All of these are components of the Church that should be One. But the real Church is the heart of the faithful. It is the unity of all the believers, which, by the unity of their hearts, constitutes the unity of Jesus.
And this is why, in Her message of November 26, 1989, the Holy Virgin said: Jesus told Peter: You are the rock, and on it, I shall build My Church. As for Me, I tell you now: You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY. The Holy Virgin wants to lead us beyond the external institution. Without, however, denying the institution. But She is asking for a united institution, which expresses unity of hearts, -- this unity which must be the real Church that Jesus wants and that He wants in the world, -- in order that through this unity, people see Jesus, come to Him, and believe in Him. You can see how things are linked.
Jesus built it. This sentence is so simple, but at the same time so magnificent! The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He who has divided it has sinned. And he who has rejoiced from its division has also sinned.
That reminds me of an incident that happened to me in Paris. Around 1986, Father John Maksud, the current director of the Oeuvre d'Orient (France), invited me to meet the team of People of the World, where he was also the director, to tell them a little bit about Soufanieh. There were about thirteen or fourteen people. There were certainly priests among them, but in their secular dress, I could not recognize them. There were also two women and a young girl. I spoke to them about the phenomenon for 45 minutes. In my introduction, I had said, "Please put aside all your Cartesian criteria and try to listen to me as bearing witness to something that I have seen and heard, as I see you now. Afterwards, it is up to you to believe or not." I therefore presented the phenomenon and quoted them some messages, including: The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He who has divided it has sinned. After having finished, one of the priests said, "This message is contrary to the theology of Vatican II, because the Church cannot be the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. In Heaven, the Church will be the accomplished kingdom of God. But on Earth, it cannot be."
There were also other disagreements and objections, particularly about the sentence of Jesus to Myrna: I want you to apply yourself to praying and to humble yourself, [because] he who humbles himself, God increases him in strength and in greatness. To the opponents, this sentence was unacceptable because God cannot ask us to condemn ourselves. I replied, "But all the spirituality of the Church, especially the Eastern spirituality and the spirituality of the Priests, calls us to show modesty compared to the magnitude of God." To the person who said that the message was contrary to Vatican II, I answered, "Listen, Father, I am not a theologian and I am not here to argue. But one of these days, I will have an answer for you." On my arrival in Damascus, I met Father Malouli. I briefed him on my trip, and I brought to his attention the objection of the French priest. He replied, "But this sentence can be found word for word in the works of Saint Augustine and Saint Basil!" I replied, "Give me the reference." He then said, "You will find it in the French book by Father de Lubac, Catholicism; I no longer remember the page; look for it!" I had the book by Father de Lubac. That same evening, I searched the book, page by page, and I actually found passages quoting Saint Augustine and Saint Basil, where I found this reference: "The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth." Word for word. I made a photocopy of the page, and wrote a letter to Father Maksud, asking him to give the photocopy to the priest who had disagreed with me." Therefore, you see, we are given these sentences so simply, and they have been said by Priests as important as Saint Augustine and Saint Basil. And people say that this is not possible! But it is the Holy Virgin who said it...
The Church, in spite of all its miseries, and God alone knows how much there has been (we know part of it, but the Lord certainly knows more), in spite of all the Church's miseries, Jesus wanted it to be His presence on Earth. And the presence of God on Earth is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And through this presence, the Church, with all its defects, sanctifies mankind. We can see this sanctification to a marvelous degree, on the faces of the saints.
Therefore, the Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He who has divided it has sinned. He who has divided it. Numerous are those who have divided it. And we all continue to divide it, until now.
A while ago, a French priest came to see me, an orthodox priest, who had in fact converted to Orthodoxy. We spent two-and-a-half hours talking about Soufanieh. This was the first time we had met. While I was stating the messages, I saw his lips moving at times. At one point, I stopped and asked him, "Father, are you praying?" He replied, "Yes. Because these messages remind me of something. It is my life. And I thank the Lord for reminding us, with such simple words, of these great truths." And before leaving, he said,
"I thank you particularly, because through these messages, I realized that, I too have sinned by not praying enough... and by not praying at all for the unity of the Church. From now on, I will pray for the unity of the Church."
We are all responsible for the division of the Church. Therefore, he who has divided it has sinned. Not only in the past. Also he who continues to divide it now. And he who has rejoiced from its division has also sinned. Thus, I think that the Holy Virgin, who knows so well the hearts of men, reaches, by this word, all those who rejoice for or profit from the division of the Church, its destruction, or its annihilation. And I believe that She is reaching many different people, in the present, the past and the future.
There will always be people who will rejoice, -- even believing that they are doing the right thing --, in the division of the Church, people who might even work to deepen this division in the Church. Here, the Holy Virgin reminds everyone that we are all responsible. Finally, She said, you are responsible for the presence of God amongst you. The Church is the presence of the Lord amongst you. You are responsible for the life of God. Imagine where the Holy Virgin is leading us! I, the priest that I am, the man that I am, as lowly as I may be, I am responsible for the life of God on Earth! The Holy Virgin magnifies us greatly.
Nevertheless, we know how small and lowly we are. But therein, I discover how much the Lord wants to magnify us, in spite of our insistence at remaining small. He wants to magnify us beyond all magnitude. Ultimately, He made us His children. This is exactly what Saint John said in the Prologue of His Gospel: "God makes of men His children." That reminds me the words of the Russian saint Seraphim of Sarov to his friend Motovilov, who had a vision of Seraphim in a luminous apparition. Seraphim started by asking the question, "What is the purpose of life." Motovilov was not able to reply. Finally, Saint Seraphim said, "The true purpose of the Christian life is to become a receptacle of the Holy Spirit." Thus, ultimately, the purpose is to become children of God, a living temple of the Spirit, as said by Saint Paul (see Rom. 8:16; 1 Cor. 3:16). Whether we want it or not, whether we live in sin or we seek to become Saints, to God we are great, very great, even greater than we could imagine. And if we have something to learn from Soufanieh, it is to remember our inherent greatness. To remember our inherent greatness.
Then, the Holy Virgin told us something we may find disconcerting: Gather! But, Holy Virgin Mary, me, I cannot even gather myself. How do you expect me to gather with others? Even in one house, we can see divisions between the husband, the wife, the children. In society, there is a generalized breakdown, even in the Middle East. How can we gather? Holy Virgin Mary, how can we gather unless we seek refuge in the Lord? We know that when the Lord gives an ordinance, He also gives the means to carry out his ordinance. This is the prayer of Saint Augustine to the Lord: "Help us achieve what you ordain!"
It is an extraordinary sentence: "Help us achieve what you ordain!" The Lord does not ask us to do the impossible. It is impossible for us, but by ordaining it to be so, the Lord gives us the grace to accomplish his ordinance. This is splendid. Once again, He magnifies us.
And in the midst of the division of Churches, in the breakdown of the Churches, this invitation from the Holy Virgin tells us: Gather! This effort to unify the Church is also a great mission for ourselves and for others. Even if we do not see much of it for now.
That reminds me of a friend in Damascus who, in 1988, had insisted that we form a task force to implement some practical steps toward unity of the Church. I assure you that, frankly, I did not see that there was much that could be done other than praying. Especially based on my personal experience. I had noticed hundreds of times that there are human obstacles which are nearly -- if not totally -- insurmountable. However, when this group practically demanded that we work toward unification, toward what the Holy Virgin asks of us, we finally decided to try to meet and to ponder the question together. And then, on the sixth anniversary of Soufanieh, on November 26, 1988, Jesus gave a message to Myrna and to us through Myrna: My children, is everything you do out of love for Me? Do not say: "What shall I do, because this is My work." You must fast and pray, because through prayer you face My truth and you confront all enemies. And, I assure you, this was a kind of revelation for us. We believe we are capable of discovering what we are to do. And surely, there is a lot to do.
But other than praying to face the Lord, to face our lowliness, and to prepare ourselves fundamentally for this conversion to unite with the Lord, and to be a living part of the unified body of Jesus, other than such prayer consolidated by fasting, we wonder what we can do, given our situation in the Middle East... This has been a revelation for everyone. And it has inspired us to more sustained prayer and fasting. Some have been inspired to fast on bread and water, Wednesdays and Fridays, as requested by the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje. Things are linked.
Therefore, when the Holy Virgin said: Gather! I tell you: Pray, pray, and pray again! by the simple fact that after the word "Gather," She repeated three times the word "Pray," She seems to be telling us: "Do not seek anything but prayer. In prayer, you have God, and, with God, you can do everything." Otherwise, we can be deluded. Otherwise, we search for ways to escape. Perhaps even honestly, with the best of intentions. But we risk becoming corrupt, and not carrying out the Lord's will.
And this is why, after saying: Pray, pray, and pray again! the Virgin continued: How beautiful are My children when they kneel down, praying. She could have skipped this sentence. How many times, when I return home in the evening, exhausted, completely exhausted, do I have only one wish, to make the sign of the cross and to lay down, saying, "My Lord, I abandon myself to You." Then I immediately remember the sentence of the Holy Virgin, and I say to myself, "I am going to kneel down, even if it's only for a second, to please the Virgin Mary, even if it's only for this second." Of course, the second prolongs a bit because I start thinking, "There is so much sadness in the heart of the Holy Virgin, that we must try to bring Her some joy. And if She has confided to us that She is happy to see us kneeling in prayer, then let us grant Her this joy."
That is the way I see it, and I am sure that many of those who have read the messages remember this sentence of Mary's. And I am sure this sentence urges them, from time to time, to please Mary, by kneeling in prayer. And once we are kneeling before God, a lot of things disappear. Because, in fact, we kneel before so many human beings. We kneel before everything except God. It is time to kneel before God, and to stand firm against all odds, against everything, if necessary, but with God. He alone liberates us.
And that is why He said, Do not fear, I am with you. Do not fear! Nevertheless, there are problems. Believe me, there are problems. The phenomenon of Soufanieh occurred in Syria at a time when the political situation was critical. Certain religious feelings which were not widespread in Syria, and which had more or less disappeared for a time, started to resurface around 1958-1960. And since then, they have slowly been growing. The arrival of the Ayatollah Khomeiny in Iran stimulated the resurgence of Islamic Fundamentalism. And the war in Lebanon made things even worse. And lately, the Gulf War, or what was called the Gulf crisis and war, certainly did not diminish this religious fervor. And when there is fundamentalism on one side, there is often fundamentalism on the other side also. Ultimately, in this ugly game, peace, friendship and cooperation never win. On the contrary, people become compartmentalized and divided. This, unfortunately, is what we are seeing. But, the Holy Virgin told us, Do not fear, I am with you.
Sometimes, people who have a very influential friend feel secure and powerful, while this same influential friend might one day lose everything that gives security. So why not think of the Lord, because He alone can give real peace. It is in Him alone that we can have peace, true peace, in spite of all the conditioning that can be dangerous, serious, risky... He alone is capable of giving this peace.
The Holy Virgin told us, Do not fear, I am with you. And we really felt Her presence with us. She was with us in Soufanieh. And I believe that if each one of us looks deep inside ourselves to honestly look at life, we can only conclude, "The Lord was with me and I didn't even realize it." Jesus said it, in the message given to Myrna on November 26, 1988: Pray for those who have forgotten the promise they made Me because they will say: Why did I not feel Your presence, O Lord, even though You were with me? We have such a tendency to forget the Lord... But He does not forget us. That reminds me the words of the prophet: "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you" (Isa. 49:15).
Therefore, the Holy Virgin told us: How beautiful are My children when they kneel down, praying. Do not fear, I am with you. She is not the first to come to tell us: Do not fear, I am with you. She is the Mother of the Lord. And She has been giving us tangible proof, for almost fifteen years now. Because at Soufanieh, She brought joy, faith, happiness and love. Therefore, Do not fear!
The Holy Virgin knew that we might be afraid. Afraid on a human level, of course. But God also is frightening. One cannot bargain with God. We learn this through the extraordinary people of the Old and New Testaments. We cannot see God and live. With God, we must die. Any separate sense of self must die. So that we can be reborn in Him. And death is frightening. Therefore, there is a real fear with God. And, with God, one must change. But we don't like to change, we are set in our ways. That is what makes me think sometimes that many of those who refuse Soufanieh, even after so many signs, refuse it because they fear the changes that God would ask from them the day they recognize His presence in the phenomenon of Soufanieh. I say that without judging people's intentions. God alone knows our consciences. God alone judges them. But there, I've said it, because it's a fact: Man is set in his ways. He does not want to change. And when the greatest change occurs, when God enfolds him, he is left with nothing.
And the Holy Virgin ended Her message with three sentences. The first one: Do not be divided as the great ones are. Who is great before God? The Holy Virgin uses our words. For us, great people are those who have certain responsibilities, they may be the rich, the powerful of this world. But before God, we are very small. But if the Mother of God considered Herself to be a Servant, then what are men, though they be rich, powerful, or educated? But, Mary uses our language. Therefore, Do not be divided as the great ones are. Divided because of what? Because of interests that have nothing to do with God.
Then, suddenly, the Holy Virgin told us something that Jesus repeated many times since: You will teach the generations THE WORD of unity, love and faith. The Holy Virgin did not say, "words" but "the word." You will teach: When I heard that and thought about it, I immediately thought of the words of Jesus: "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12) and "You are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14). I imagined the Apostles talking together: "We, the light of the world? But, who are we to be the light of the world?" So then, what about us? Who are we to teach the generations? We have barely been able to teach ourselves. Teaching the generations seems to be a mission way beyond our capabilities. But even this phrase suggests that the Lord is with us, and that He will teach the Nations through our smallness, our miseries, and our limited knowledge.
THE WORD: It is very important to notice that on three occasions, Mary and Jesus used this sentence: You will teach the generations THE WORD of unity, love and faith. When we try to understand things, we have a habit of analyzing them, separating words from ideas. Here, Mary and Jesus unite everything. And it is true, if we think about it, we realize that, if I may say so, They are absolutely right. Can there be unity that is not based on love? Only love can unify. And love is the trust in the one who loves us. That is to say, the faith in the one who loves us. When I know that the Lord loves me, When I really believe that He loves me, in the certainty of His love, I remain one with myself. I remain united within myself. It is therein that I see the perfect unity between these three words: unity, love and faith.
And in the Church, unity can be achieved only in love. And love can blossom only in the certainty of His love for us. It cannot derive from our miserable love for Him. We are capable of rejecting Him at any moment. And of justifying that rejection of God. In a thousand ways. But His love for us is solid, eternal! Saint Paul said, "God is faithful." That never changes. He never changes. But we waver. Knowing that God loves me, based on this certainty of His love, I can, with His grace, remain united within myself. And what applies to one person applies to small groups, and can also apply to the immense group that is the Church. That is why the Lord insists so much on THE WORD of unity, love and faith.
Then the Holy Virgin, once more, urges us to pray: Pray for the inhabitants of Earth and Heaven. The inhabitants of Earth and Heaven. We understand "the inhabitants of Earth." But "the inhabitants of Heaven?" The phrasing of the Arabic sentence could mean: "Pray for the inhabitants of Heaven," in the sense of "imploring their prayer." But we can also understand it in the sense of those who are on their way to Heaven, those who departed before us and who are on their way to Heaven, those who are in what we call Purgatory, that phase of preparation for the divine vision, that indispensable phase of purification.
From that perspective, I understand why the Holy Virgin tells us also:
for the inhabitants of [...] Heaven. That is to say, pray for those
who are on their way to Heaven. For all our dead, finally. For those who
have preceded us and for ourselves when we get there. Therefore, the prayer
of the Holy Virgin cannot exclude anyone. The inhabitants of Earth and
Heaven. She cannot exclude anybody. Ultimately, in prayer, man allows
God to expand him to the very greatness of God Himself!
The ecstasies, First
Friday, October 28, 1983 -- Tuesday, November 26, 1985
The ecstasies started on October 28, 1983. To avoid getting bogged down in too many details, I grouped the ecstasies into four periods. In each period, there are a few main ideas which are continuously repeated, explained and developed. Now I will examine the messages of the ecstasies.
First of all, there is the period from October 28, 1983 to November 26, 1985. Here, there is a very clear crescendo. The Holy Virgin starts with the person that She has chosen, and slowly makes us choose God over any Church. And, by taking into account the person called Myrna, She seeks to educate us too, by educating Myrna and by telling her: "You will educate, you will be the educator of My generations." How does the Virgin proceed?
The first word of the first message, during the first ecstasy, is: Do not fear. Before God, human beings are automatically afraid. Automatically. This is often seen in the Gospel. Angels who appeared to shepherds, tell them: "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people!" (Luke 2:10). The Virgin Mary said to Myrna, Do not fear. All this is happening to glorify the name of God. Do not fear anything. You are small, limited. But all that is done and all that shall be done to glorify God. One must always look at these two opposite realities. God chose Man, with all his misery, in order to glorify Him.
Now we are going to see how things develop along this continuum, all that the Lord tried to tell Myrna, and, through Myrna, all the people who will live the Soufanieh phenomenon. In fact, in the period from October 28, 1983 to the evening of August 14, 1985, this great idea of God (who chose a person to glorify His name) is developed. And He sent Mary, as His servant, to make this first move to glorify God: Do not fear. All this is happening to glorify the name of God. And, again: Do not fear. Since the first message, during the first ecstasy, on two occasions, the Holy Virgin told Myrna: Do not fear.Do not fear. All this is happening to glorify the name of God. Do not fear. In you I shall educate My generation. Thus, the Holy Virgin told Myrna: "The Lord has laid His hand upon you so that you will educate this generation which will be that of the Virgin and the Lord."
Myrna was afraid when she heard that. When she came out from the ecstasy, she asked us, "But what does it mean?" She asked the question because the Holy Virgin used an Arabic word that can mean "to educate" or "to punish so severely that one will not err again but will serve as an example to others." When one says in Arabic "Biddi Rabbik," this can mean "I am going to hit you and to punish you severely." Also, Myrna wondered, "What is the Holy Virgin going to do to me?" She thought she might be punished. We told her, "Definitely not! Surely the Lord is planning something of which we have no knowledge. He will use you, perhaps to teach people how to pray, to surrender to Him, to be patient, to live harmoniously in marriage, etc. But certainly, the Lord has chosen you to teach. Surrender to Him, and have no fear." That is why Jesus and the Holy Virgin said, Do not fear.
During the second ecstasy, on Friday, November 4, 1983, the Holy Virgin, noticing that Myrna's parents were crying, told her: Go down and tell them that you are My daughter before being theirs... Therefore, Myrna no longer belongs to herself. Although she is a married woman, she is the daughter of God and the Holy Virgin before being the daughter of human beings (her parents). And, through Myrna, of course, everything that is said to her is said to each one of us. And that is why the Holy Virgin, after saying, Go down and tell them that you are My daughter before being theirs, continued with an extraordinary sentence, in Arabic dialect: My heart has been consumed over My only Son ("has been consumed by fire," is the translation of this Arabic word), it will not be consumed over all My children. In literal translation, it seems to mean: "I was powerless; Now, I am not going to kill Myself for you." But, as said in this Arabic dialect that we understand, the Virgin means the contrary: "For My Son, I was incapable of doing anything, but now, I am ready to do anything to save you." And, in this sense, the Holy Virgin, by telling Myrna: Go down and tell them that you are My daughter..., and by saying this other sentence which means: "I am ready to do anything to save My children," She is explaining to us that we are all Her children. Therefore, the things said to Myrna do not concern solely Myrna. They concern all of us.
Myrna is a married woman. Also, the question was asked: Would she continue to live with her husband? Would she leave the family? Would she become a nun? On Friday, November 25, 1983, the Holy Virgin told her: "No." I have not come to separate. Your married life will remain as it is... This answer was quite a relief for Myrna and Nicolas, and provided an answer to all those who wondered why Myrna was still living with her husband. This, therefore, is one of the most fundamental aspects of Soufanieh, the reminder of the sanctity of marriage, at a time where marriage has been willingly and systematically devalued and disintegrated, to a frightening degree.
On May 31, 1984, the Ascension Day, there was a phase between the various messages of the first period, a phase where Jesus, intervening for the first time, reminded us that He is the Beginning and the End. He gave an astonishing message to Myrna: I am the Beginning and the End. I am Truth, Freedom and Peace. In the Gospel, Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), Here, He says: I am Truth, Freedom and Peace. He is practically saying, "Poor creatures! You are searching for the truth, but I am the truth. You seek freedom, but what kind of freedom? And you seek peace. But seek Me, I will give you freedom and peace. You are entitled to it but you do not know how to get to it."
Then He continued: My peace, I give you. This is a message of peace. And He said to Myrna, Pray for God's will to be done in you. Men are always incapable of doing things, compared to the Lord. And if they truly face their responsibilities, these responsibilities can appear so huge that they feel overwhelmed, completely overwhelmed. And it is then that the Lord said: "Trust Me. I am the Beginning and the End. Why are you worried? I have chosen you. I want to save you. Surrender to Me. But ask in your prayers [that] God's will to be done in you. You experience your miseries, your sins, your limits, your lack of power. Well, ask [that] God's will to be done in you. Only that. Make yourself available; ask humbly for this grace." And this grace will come and will help us do what we must do, for our purification and our salvation.
That is why Jesus, immediately after saying to Myrna, Pray for God's will to be done in you, continued, and say... And He taught her a very beautiful prayer. This prayer, we later discovered, is a compilation taken from various passages of the book entitled The Imitation of Jesus Christ. Each line is a pearl, and God has linked them together in a marvelous bracelet, so beautiful and so simple.
Father Malouli, who is much more educated than I, did not notice that the text was from The Imitation of Jesus Christ. I had read very little of this book. But since then, I have read from it frequently. I had not noticed that the text was there. Then one day, someone told us, "But I have seen this text..." Some people took advantage and said, "There you go. Myrna set it up!" or even "The priests fabricated the prayer, and communicated it to Myrna." We said, "Come, now! We were totally unaware of what was in The Imitation of Jesus Christ!"
Observe the manner in which Jesus chose all of these little sentences to remind us, "Finally, you seek peace and rest, but they are found in Me: "Grant that I rest in You above all things, above all creatures, above all Your angels, above all praise, above all rejoicing and exultation, above all glory and honor, above all Heavenly hosts. He covered everything: "Do not seek peace, nor rest in any creature, even if this creature is at the greatest of heights. Peace is in Me." And that reminds me of what Saint Augustine said: "Lord, You have made us for You, and our hearts abide only in You." And Jesus taught Myrna, at the end of this prayer, For You alone are the Most High, You alone are the Almighty and Good above all things. Above all things! It should not be forgotten that the message was given in Arabic and proclaimed in an Arab society, with a Muslim majority. The Virgin Mary went about it wisely. She is highly respected in Islam.
On Friday, September 7, 1984, the Holy Virgin appeared again to Myrna in an ecstasy, and urged her to live her life. Live your life. But let not life prevent you from continuing to pray. Pray always. Pray to truly be an instrument of good in the hands of the Lord. Live your married life, like any woman in the world, but do not cease praying. These are very simple but specific messages which prepare Myrna for this mission that surpasses her capacities and which surpasses all of us. Messages given day by day. The Holy Virgin, before making Myrna an educator of what She has called My generation, has Herself been the educator of Myrna. And, through Myrna, our educator also.
And on May 1, 1985, the Holy Virgin began an intense appeal calling all Christians to unity. She had already requested that through the apparitions. But here, for the first time, She said to Myrna, My heart is wounded. Do not allow My heart to break because of your divisions. She said it to us. And at the beginning of this message, She said, My children. She used the word "Awladi," which means "My small children." Usually, She used the word "Abnaï." The word "Iben," the singular of "Abnaï," can even refer to a fifty-year-old man or a sixty-year-old woman, as long as their parents are alive. But the word "Awladi" refers to youngsters. Is it bold of us to conclude that the Holy Virgin sees our divisions as childish things from which we must, at all costs, liberate ourselves in order to grow and to achieve unity? Personally, I think of it this way.
That day, the Holy Virgin held Myrna's hands and looked at her with much sadness, and said, My small children, "Awladi," assemble. My heart is wounded. Do not allow My heart to break because of your divisions. We began to see that one way to glorify the Lord is to unify the Church. And Jesus clearly said, "That they all may ONE; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be ONE in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:21). As long as the Church is divided, it is not bearing witness to the glory of God. And its works cannot be accepted as they would be if the Church were truly One. One in faith, structure and mission. The Holy Virgin continued, therefore, to open the new window, the one She had begun to open during Her apparitions. We must grow, become children of God instead of remaining children riddled with divisions.
Then the Holy Virgin surprised us by saying this to Myrna: I shall give you a gift for your hardships. The gift was Myrna's pregnancy and the birth of baby Myriam and then John-Emmanuel. How profound is this small sentence! Every child is a gift from Heaven. A child cannot be an object of pleasure or recreation. A child cannot be rejected or killed according to man's will. A child cannot be like a pet we obtain to fill our loneliness or a frightening void. What a timely message!
Therefore, the Holy Virgin seeks to glorify God through this small instrument called Myrna, and She is educating her. She is preparing her for motherhood. And through her, She sends us messages about our divine origin, about our divine heritage, our divine place, and therefore, about our human dignity.
On August 4, 1985, the Holy Virgin reminded us what She said during the apparition of March 24, 1983, and what Jesus said again during the ecstasy of August 14, 1988 in Los Angeles (USA). She said, The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He who has divided it has sinned. And he who has rejoiced from its division has also sinned. The ecstasy of August 4th, 1985, happened at the end of a solemn mass celebrated in the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Hassaké, a city located in north-eastern Syria. That day, the Holy Virgin appeared to Myrna in a Syrian Orthodox Church, just as She had appeared elsewhere. Is She not trying to remind us that all Churches are the Churches of Her Son? And that She wants to assemble these churches to make One. Because the Church is the kingdom of God on Earth. Let us dispense with divisions.
And to appease Myrna, She told her, again, I am happy. Do not fear. I am with you. In you I shall educate My generation. Once again, this same theme: I am happy. Do not fear. I am with you. In you I shall educate My generation. The Holy Virgin is truly an educator, working and slowly preparing the woman who will one day bear the special mission of inviting all Christians to unite. This is a great message in which the Holy Virgin acts as a Mother, a Mother who cares for everyone, who does not exclude anyone. She is a mother who wants to assemble all Her children. As the Arabic proverb says, "Al-Oum Bitlem -- A mother likes to gather."
On August 14, 1985, before disappearing for four years from Myrna's ecstasies, the Virgin Mary gave us a message in Arabic dialect, a simple yet profound message: Happy anniversary. It is always a feast for Me whenever I see you all gathered together. And She repeated the words. This may seem repetitive. But She persisted: It is always a feast for Me whenever I see you all gathered together. Your prayer is My feast. Your faith is My feast. The union of your hearts is My feast. "My feast is not a big fuss or ceremonies. It is this unity of hearts, of prayer, and finally, of the Church. That is My feast. Therefore, give Me the joy of seeing you united." She gave this message and then disappeared for four years and four days.
From that day, we felt a kind of turning point in the phenomenon. This time, it was Jesus who spoke; Jesus, who had appeared to Myrna a little before, on May 31, 1984, and who, I would say, gave later messages with great insistence. The great message that He gave, on September 7, 1985, immediately after the message of the Holy Virgin about divine motherhood and the call to unity, is an intriguing and astonishing message that summarizes all Christian doctrine, all Christian theology: I am the Creator. I created Her, so that She could create Me. Rejoice from the joy of Heaven, because the Daughter of the Father and the Mother of God and the Spouse of the Spirit is born. Exult from the exultation of the Earth, because your salvation is fulfilled. Jesus summarized everything that He is and all that mankind is to Him. And all that He has done for mankind and all that He is going to do for the salvation of mankind. In a few lines, this message is an extraordinary summary. In the future, He will prove His word to be true. He will prove it abundantly. With beautiful results.
On November 26, 1985, He commenced a dialogue with Myrna, something unique that had not happened before and that has not happened since. At least not yet. My daughter, do you wish to be crucified or glorified? She replied: Glorified. And when Father Malouli asked her, "What does 'glorified' mean to you?" She replied, "Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit." Myrna did not go further. Jesus smiled and said, Do you prefer to be glorified by the creature or the Creator? She replied, By the Creator. Then Jesus said, This is realized through crucifixion. Thus He began to teach Myrna, to educate Myrna in the truths of Christianity. Or rather, should I say, the great realities of Christianity. When we say "truths," it is as if we are speaking to the intelligence, but by using the word "reality," we are talking about what is real, factual, experienced.
Educating in the great Christian realities: God who loves, the cross. God, who bore the cross out of love for mankind, is asking us to bear our cross out of love for Him and out of love for ourselves, for our salvation. This is therefore a new perspective that Jesus is adopting now. He explained to Myrna that the cross means looking to the Creator, which means lowering ourselves, and that teaches us how to regard creatures, without being influenced by them. Then, He asked her to await His return with patience and love.
After that, He promised her a reward. He who participates in My suffering, I shall make him participate in My glory. That is quite a perspective. A total, all-encompassing perspective: God who loves, who died on the cross out of love for mankind, who asks people to love Him by bearing their cross, to pray to Him, to lower themselves for Him and to live out of love for Him. And all this will be rewarded. Because they will have suffered on Earth, He will reward them in eternity. And this is why He told Myrna to contemplate this frightening perspective: the cross, bear always the cross!
He told her, Do not fear. [...] I shall give you from My wounds enough to repay the debts of the sinners. Imagine this participation in the work of Redemption! He magnified Myrna to the level of a person participating in the Redemption. He alone is the Master. Whatever He wants, He does. We have no power. We have no glory either. None. And that is why Jesus said, From My wounds. His wounds are the source from which every soul drinks. That was Saint Paul's experience. And he was able to speak about it clearly, without self-glorification.
Now Jesus is educating her. He said to Myrna, and if my absence lasts,
[...] do no fear. And in fact, Jesus disappeared for one year. After
this message given on November 26, 1985, Jesus disappeared totally. The
Holy Virgin also disappeared. Oil no longer oozed, neither from the image,
nor from Myrna's body. Nothing at all. For a year, it was like a drought.
But it was also a time of prayer. We continued to pray.
The ecstasies, Second period
Wednesday, November 26, 1986 -- Friday, August 14, 1987
One year after, to the day, on November 26, 1986, Jesus gave Myrna a new message, in which He repeated and expanded His former promise. How beautiful is this place. I shall build My kingdom and My peace in it. But this place is not outwardly beautiful. Therefore, it is not the house that is beautiful. It is this assembly of believers, this desire of believers to be with the Lord, this reply of believers or the converted to the call of the Lord, this love that they have for Him. All that is what is beautiful to the Lord. And He will use this tiny foundation to build His kingdom and His peace. It is He who builds, not us! With the materials He chooses. It is He that chooses, not us.
And Jesus said, I shall build My kingdom and My peace [...] so that I may obtain your heart(s). I give you My heart to (all of) you so that I may obtain your heart(s). "I want you to belong to Me. You cannot belong to anyone or anything else but Me." And He began, Your sins are forgiven, because you look towards Me. Therefore, we can tell Him, "Lord, you are going to build with me? But, who am I? I am lowly, a sinner!" And this is true. But He soothes and reassures us, by seeming to say, "Do not worry. I accept you as you are. Accept yourselves as you are. Accept Me like I want you. I start by forgiving you, and I am capable of sanctifying you and making you the instruments of My glory." This is the way I see the connection between these sentences of Jesus: How beautiful is this place. I shall build My kingdom and My peace in it. I give you My heart to (all of) you so that I may obtain your heart(s). Your sins are forgiven, because you look towards Me. Once we look to someone with love and trust, we become filled with his image.
And this is what Jesus said: In he who looks towards Me, I shall paint My image in him. Therefore, you will be My icons. You will be My icons, just as we can symbolically say that Myrna is the Lord's icon. As oil oozes from the images of the Holy Virgin and Jesus, so does oil ooze from Myrna's body too. Oil has oozed from other people who were praying. If the Lord wants to remind us that we are His icons, He is only reminding us of a truth that is rooted in Man, and that the Holy Scriptures explain right from the very first pages: "And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him" (Gen. 1:27). We are the icons of God on Earth. Unfortunately, we have forgotten that. We have disfigured ourselves, we have denied ourselves. We have tried to be icons of this world instead of being icons of God. The Lord tells us, "Whether you want it or not, you are My icons."
And here, Jesus said an extraordinary sentence: In he who looks towards Me, I shall paint My image in him. He continued: [And] woe to him who represents My image but has ransomed My blood. Woe to him who represents My image but has ransomed My blood. We all represent the image of God. But do we truly represent this image or not? How do we represent it? To what extent? What way? The Lord is very patient, but He said in the Gospel, "Woe! Woe! Woe!" And here, he says only once, "Woe!" And this woe reaches everybody. It reaches all Christians who claim to represent the Lord: The simple believer, the priest, the bishop, the Patriarch, the Pope. We are all His representatives.
That is why Jesus added immediately: Pray for the sinners. Because for each word of prayer, I shall spill a drop of My blood on one of the sinners. Therefore, He thinks of each one of us. That reminds me of the words of Blaise Pascal: "I have poured this drop of My blood for you." For the Lord, we are not an anonymous crowd. We are persons who are loved individually. We are persons who are considered individually. He paints His image in each of us. He want us to be in His own image. If, unfortunately, we lead a sinful life, only He can help us to redeem ourselves. He tells us that very clearly.
That is why He immediately told Myrna, who might have been troubled by all this, Let not earthly matters trouble you, because through My wounds you will gain Eternity. Here, I want to point out something. Myrna was very anxious because her father had been imprisoned. He was in jail for three months for being falsely accused. In prison, he spent all his time telling the other prisoners the whole story of Soufanieh. He tore his undershirt to make a rosary out of it, tying the small pieces of material into beads. He made a rosary out of it and prayed the rosary during his three-month stay. But just before the ecstasy of that day, Myrna was crying. She was in the living room. I came to tell her, "Myrna, stop crying. Remember what the Holy Virgin told you once: 'Go down and tell them that you are My daughter before being theirs.' And now, I can tell you that your father is a child of God before being your father. You have no right to worry so much. Now, it is time to pray. Stand with the people, in the midst of them, and leave your father to the Good Lord. He knows everything and He settles everything." In the message, there was this sentence: My daughter, let not earthly matters trouble you. And Myrna understood that very well. Anyone who does not know what was worrying Myrna can take these words as a general statement: There are so many things on Earth that worry us. But Myrna understood very well why Jesus said that.
And He continues: Through My wounds you will gain Eternity. I want to renew My passion. And He threatens her: And I want you to accomplish your mission; [otherwise] you will not be able to enter Heaven. The Lord is as good as He is demanding! Therefore, if someone says that God's mercy would not allow the presence of an eternal hell, one can reply, "But Man did not invent it!" Human reason does not accept that. But God knows God better than anyone. He told us the truth about Himself and about our own eternity. So if He says that there is an eternal Heaven and also an eternal hell, we should take that into account and not act rashly, relying on the unlimited and infinite mercy of God. We have no right to do so.
Jesus then told Myrna: Go in peace, and tell My children to come to Me any time, and not only when I renew the feast of My Mother. Because I am with them at all times. So Jesus is there, reminding Myrna of the great truth of the cross. He will undertake salvation, and will renew His kingdom through these small instruments, like Myrna. Myrna should not be disarmed by her sin. Jesus is capable of painting His image in her and in any other sinner.
And He urged her to pray and to expect Him to manifest Himself in her, through His wounds. Because He wanted to renew His passion, that is to say, He wanted to remind men that He wants the salvation of mankind. And the salvation of mankind can only be attained through the suffering of God and through the suffering of those who participate in the Redemption of the Lord. And the Lord is with us. Also, should we be present for Him, continuously present, truly present, not only occasionally, temporarily!
Then there was a warning that made us think. In fact, on Holy Saturday, April 18, 1987, during the ecstasy, Jesus told Myrna, I have given you a sign to glorify Me. Glorifying God is always the final goal. Continue along this path, and I am with you. For if you do not... And then He stopped. Therefore, everything is done for His glorification. As long as we continue along this path, He is happy, but if we do not... And He is with us. Since we know that He is with us, we are sure we will arrive. If you do not... This "If you do not" made us think a lot. We wondered, "Who is He talking to?" A particular person or all of us? Myrna alone, or all of us? And I think that we have not paid enough attention to this. Because in the next two messages, Jesus told us, first on May 28th, 1987: Love one another and pray with faith. When the Lord says to us, Love one another, it is because we do not love one another enough. And when He says, Pray with faith, it is because we do not pray with enough faith. Our prayer had perhaps become a routine.
And again, afterwards, on July 22nd, 1987, He urged Myrna to pray, using the plural, saying: Pray, pray, and pray again, addressing His message to all of us. And if you pray, say, "O Father, through the merits of Your beloved Son's wounds, save us." However, in the message, Jesus repeated again to Myrna, Do not fear, My daughter, in you I shall educate My generation. Therefore, Jesus again asked Myrna not to fear. He wants to educate her. But through her, He urges us to pray. To pray by addressing the Father, but through the wounds of Jesus. That is to say, by His Redemption. There is no salvation except through Jesus. There is no salvation except through the wounds of Jesus. He already said, on November 26, 1985, that there is no salvation for the soul except through the Cross: There is no salvation for the soul except through the Cross. Here again He says the same thing: O Father, through the merits of Your beloved Son's wounds, save us. We must go through the wounds, through Redemption. The wounds of Jesus are the doors to salvation.
Then Jesus, during the following message, on the evening of August 14, 1987, proclaimed what we can truly call divine motherhood. It was a message so simple and so beautiful. My daughter, She is My Mother from whom I was born. He who honors Her, honors Me. He who denies, Her denies Me. And he who asks something from Her, obtains because She is My Mother. Compare this message with what Jesus said in the Gospel: "He who recognizes the Son, recognizes the Father" (John 7:19; see John 5:23 and 14:9). Here, we have the impression that the Lord is magnifying the Holy Virgin to a level inconceivable for theologians. He who honors Her, honors Me. When we think of our Protestant brothers, who say that Honor given to the Holy Virgin is taken away from Jesus, this statement is difficult to understand. It is difficult to accept. It is not possible. Humanly speaking, this is unacceptable. Because honor given to the mother of a man, whomever he may be, is, humanly speaking, additional honor rendered to the son. This is clear logic. Apply this to Jesus and His Mother! To assert the opposite is to deny logic.
He who denies Her, denies Me. And he who asks something from Her, obtains because She is My Mother. I remember that during the years of my theological studies, we were taught that "Only God gives. We ask, by the intercession of Saints, but only God gives." Here, Jesus seems to scoff at our human theology: "Ask My Mother, have no fear. She is My Mother. I cannot refuse Her anything. He who asks something from Her obtains. Even if you do not ask from Me, ask from Her, and you will receive." This is very beautiful. The theology of Jesus is so human! This is even more interesting because in the Middle East, even those who do not believe, or those who never pray in churches, or who are not observant at all, even those people, when they are in trouble, instinctively say, "Ya'Adra! -- O Virgin!" It is true. Whether they are children, adults, or old people, they say, "Ya'Adra!"
I remember the story of a young man who was leading a life of worldly pleasure. Once, he narrowly missed getting into a serious car accident. He was on a mountain road, where there was snow, rain, and awful traffic, and his car started sliding down the steep slope. Instinctively, he shouted, "Ya'Adra!" He told me, "I don't know how the car stopped, it just came to a stop right at the edge of a cliff." What made it stop? "Ya'Adra! -- O Virgin!" He told me, "This occurred even though my life was quite far away from Jesus and Mary." And since then, this young man has completely changed. He has resumed the path that leads to the Lord.
"Ask My Mother. Ask. Have no fear, ask!" Do we ask Her often enough? In Western countries, the Holy Virgin is often absent. Some Churches no longer have a statue or an icon of Her. Even the rosary has been abandoned by some people. One of the French priests who came to Damascus, when he saw how much we prayed the rosary (I have difficulty saying "recite the rosary," although this is the expression to use because we cannot just recite a prayer), he said, "Oh! You pray the rosary!" I replied, "Of course! Of course we pray the rosary! Why would we not?" He said, "But in France, this tradition has disappeared." I told him, "I hope it will start again." What is the disadvantage of praying the rosary? In the first place, it has the same words said by the angel and Elizabeth. The words of the Gospel! And in the second place, what do we say to the Holy Virgin? "Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death." This "now" might be exactly the hour of our death. Because I cannot guarantee what will happen during the next minute. Therefore, to Her, who is the Mother of God, we pray, "Look at me, poor sinner." What disadvantage or incongruity could there be in praying the rosary? We ask things of human beings whom we often disrespect. We ask them for things to achieve our goals. Why not ask things of the Mother of God, who is our Mother? Unless we no longer consider ourselves to be sinners. This act of eliminating our sense of sin is one of the greatest sins in Western countries.
Therefore, during the second period, we witnessed a kind of crescendo in the messages. The Lord unveiled His entire plan of salvation and then proved His words to be true. I was crucified out of love for you, and I want you to [...] bear the cross. Pray. My daughter, I shall give you from My wounds. [You, also, must pray.] And, Do not fear, I am with you. Then, [Respect My Mother, honor Her, and pray to Her. She is for you, My Mother and your Mother.]
The ecstasies, A turning point
Monday, September 7, 1987 -- Thursday, November 26, 1987
Here, there was a turning point. On September 7, 1987. This turning point was preceded by a mysterious warning on Holy Saturday, April 18, 1987. On September 7, 1987, the message seemed like more than a warning. It seemed more like an ultimatum. Myrna, awakening from the ecstasy, was crying. She was so upset that when the priests asked her what was wrong, she replied, "Get out of the room, I don't want to see anyone here. If He wanted to abandon me, then why did He choose me? Suicide would be better." Imagine that word. It shows how devastated Myrna was, almost despondent. I was not in the room to hear what she said, but Father Boulos Fadel reported that to me.
Here is the content of the message. Jesus is speaking: Mary (this was the name given to Myrna at her baptism), is it not you that I have chosen, the quiet girl with a heart full of love and sympathy? I have noticed that you cannot endure anything for Me. This is a death sentence. And the Lord continued: I shall give you a chance to choose. Know that if you lose Me, you will lose the prayers of all those around you, and know that bearing the Cross is unavoidable. Did Myrna, during this period, seek to avoid bearing the cross, as we might also have done? Because Myrna is not alone. Myrna, I would say, represents the entire community. Did we try to avoid bearing the cross? To flee from it? To pretend that we were bearing it? This is a daily temptation. Myrna must have passed through a period of even greater temptation, and the Lord caught hold of her.
One person in the room guessed what was happening before even hearing the message. It was the late Nabil, the cameraman, who was there constantly filming. When he saw Myrna crying so hard, he turned to her husband and said, "Nicolas, I think that Jesus reprimanded your wife." And, in fact, when Myrna told us the message, we realized that Nabil was right. After that, Myrna intensified her prayers. And we also shook ourselves and said, "It is time to intensify our prayer life, and our life of love and service." Luckily, the Lord had mercy on us. Otherwise, we would have suffered a horrible fall. Imagine, after four years, we would have been scoffed at by the whole world. Imagine our situation, Myrna's situation, if everything had ceased after all these events. People would certainly have claimed that the whole thing was completely false. Or they would have said, "See, God Himself has abandoned them. Oh, the poor people, what remains for them?"
We awaited the answer to this ultimatum with great anxiety, on the eve of November 26, 1987. That day, Father René Laurentin (Vatican Mariologist) was there. The Lord gave a message to Myrna. He congratulated her for having chosen Him, but He urged her to live a life based on true faith and love. He urged her to pray for those who persecute her, because through them, He promised her Glory. And He urged her, again, to be strong in the face of difficulties, to be faithful as a wife, a mother and a sister to those who come to her. And again, He gave her the great message, but this time, to bring to the whole world: Go and preach to the whole world and tell them without fear to work for unity. That was the turning point. And what a turnaround! An ultimatum that the Lord Himself withdrew, out of friendship for us, out of love for Himself.
And He gave Myrna a new mission: Go and preach! This go and preach was seized upon by a physician, Doctor Antoine Mansour (personal doctor of former American president of the United States of America, Ronald Regan), who phoned the same evening from the USA. At his request, we told him the message. A short while after, he phoned back and said, "We are going to put the Lord's ordinance into practice. I invite you, and we are going to start with the U.S.A."
The ecstasies, Third period
Sunday, August 14, 1988 -- Monday, October 10, 1988
Here begins what I call the third period of the messages. Myrna and Nicolas went to the United States for six months. In Los Angeles, the Lord renewed the mission of Soufanieh, through the oil that oozed, and through a message that the Lord gave on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, August 14, 1988, during an ecstasy that occurred at the end of a mass celebrated in the house of Doctor Antoine Mansour.
Then, Jesus said: My children, My peace I gave you, but what have you given Me? Jesus was there, I would say, to ask what had been achieved. After seven or eight years, He had the right to ask, "What have you done?" My peace I gave you, but what have you given Me? You are My Church and your heart belongs to Me, unless this heart has a god other than Me! You see this back-and-forth of the Lord: You are My Church and your heart belongs to Me, unless... My peace I gave you, but what have you given Me? Then He continues, I told you, The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He who has divided it has sinned. And he who has rejoiced from its division has also sinned. And this led Him to say, It is easier for Me (to accept) that an infidel believe in My name than that those who pretend to have faith and love swear by My name. It was a sad observation, and a hard reproach! A hard reproach because it corresponded to an observation that we had made in Soufanieh. How many people who were completely against God have been reclaimed by God and have found their joy, their purpose, their peace and their freedom in the Lord. And many of those who claim to represent the Lord, or to believe in Him, continue to deny Soufanieh and to oppose it with such disdain and snobbery! We saw some people who, even though they had very important positions in the Church, continued obstinately to refuse all these signs that the Lord gave to us.
It is Jesus' reproach that seems to weigh heavily on His heart. The continuation of the message seems to clarify it, because Jesus continued, It is in God alone that you must place your pride. In God alone! Then, He strengthens this explanation, it seems to me, in the sentence that immediately follows: Pray for the sinners who forgive in My name, and for those who deny My Mother. But who forgives in the name of Jesus? Those who have the power to forgive. In the Catholic as well as the Orthodox Churches, it is the clergy, at any level. It is the clergy, the priests, the bishops, the Patriarchs, and the Pope. Only they forgive in the name of Jesus. Jesus reminds us of our state as sinners, especially when we forgive in His name!
At the end, Jesus said this truly astounding sentence, which gives the impression that God is begging us: My children, I have given you all of My time, give Me a part of your time. But God does not need anything! The whole universe, the entire universe, gives Him nothing! And despite that, He asks us for part of our time. If this is not for us, who is it for? Why does He want our time? He has eternity ahead of Him, before and after! Despite that, He asks us for part of our time. So that, through this time that we give Him, we may discover ourselves, find Him again, find ourselves again. So that we truly become children of God. Not children of this world, immersed in the world, who see nothing but this world.
This message was given in Los Angeles. And it seemed to us that the Lord, beyond Soufanieh, was targeting Americans as a priority. Because the way of life in the USA exemplifies this attachment to the worldly. But it is obvious that the Lord is speaking to us all. Because we are all threatened by this civilization, this so-called western civilization. It is most extreme in the USA, but we are all threatened by it. We see some of its consequences in Syria. And God's presence in our daily life has diminished. More and more. When I stroll through the streets of Paris, I ask myself, "Where is God, if He is not in the hearts of a few people, in some little houses, in convents and monasteries, or in these small prayer groups which are like little islands in a great pagan, materialistic ocean?"
On September 7, 1988 a new stage in this third period began. Myrna returned to Damascus on September 6. She had suffered a lot in the United States. She suffered a lot without complaining. Back in Damascus, then, she told us many things, almost despite herself, to explain the meaning of the message received on September 7. That day, the Lord said, My daughter, I told you to overcome all your difficulties and know that you have endured only a few. That is to say, prepare yourself. He is always educating her, preparing her.
And it was then that He pronounced a word that came like a slap in the face: Tell My children that it is from them that I demand unity, and I do not want it from those who act as if they were working for unity. This sentence seemed so harsh that, Father Joseph Malouli and I, said to each other, "Perhaps Myrna had not understood Him." So I read the sentence again, and asked Myrna to listen carefully to see if she was not mistaken. After I read the sentence again clearly, she said, "That is exactly what I heard." The following day, I took the message to the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch. After reading it, he said, "Father, the Lord knows us. That is exactly what we are like." A short while after, I showed the message to another bishop, Monsignor George Hafoury. When he read the message, he said, "Father, the Lord knows us. This is really true."
In the continuation of this message, Jesus repeated to Myrna, Go and preach. Go and preach! She had just returned. She returned the night before, on September 6. And on September 7, Jesus told her, Go and preach. As if the Lord wanted her to be on the road. And wherever you go, I am with you. Therefore, do not fear anything, I am with you. Jesus wanted Myrna to be on a permanent mission. But is this not the normal situation of any Christian?
A few days later, Myrna went to Lebanon. She had been invited there. In Lebanon, among other events, an extraordinary thing happened. She attended Sunday mass on October 10, 1988, held at Saint George's Church in the village of Màad. After mass, she returned to the church, where there was a plaster crucifix that Myrna found very beautiful. She kneeled down, and then she was not aware of what happened after. Some people who were looking for Myrna went to the church and found her kneeling under the crucifix. Oil was oozing from the feet of the crucifix onto Myrna's head, which was just under Jesus' feet. Oil was oozing and running onto the floor. People filmed the whole thing, for half an hour. Then, when Myrna awakened from the ecstasy, she said, "I saw light, and I heard the voice of Jesus who told me, My daughter Mary, why are you afraid even though I am with you?" Always this statement: I am with you. You must speak loudly to tell the word of truth about He who created you, so that My strength may be manifested in you. And I will give you from My wounds so that you will forget the hardships that people inflict upon you. Do not choose your path, because I have laid it out before you.
This message is both so deep and so beautiful that it takes one's breath away. Myrna is still afraid, despite all she has seen, despite all she is experiencing. A human being is still a human being. Myrna is suffering because of what people are saying about her. She has been suffering immensely until now. The Lord is with Myrna, and she knows that. But despite this fact, she knows she is very limited.
Myrna does not like to speak about herself. When her husband or the priests are with her, and someone asks her a question, she says, "Ask Nicolas, ask the Father. Me, I know nothing." Usually, Myrna acts as if the whole Soufanieh phenomenon does not concern her, as if she has nothing to do with it. But when she has no choice, and she is obliged to speak (and I have seen that recorded on video), what she says is amazing. When she watches the videotapes, she says, "How could I have spoken like that?" It is not she who is speaking. That is why the Lord told her, You must speak loudly to tell the word of truth about He who created you, so that My strength may be manifested in you. This leads us back to the foundation of Christianity: God is pleased by humble people who accept Him. And it is through those humble people that He manifests all His greatness and all His power. He began in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, for us, it is especially the Holy Virgin who is His most devoted Servant, the most humble, who regards Herself as a lowly servant, She who is, at the same time, the Mother of God. Myrna keenly feels her limits, her weaknesses, her fears. The Lord tells her, "Do not worry, speak." He obliges her to speak.
Then the Lord states this paradox: Do not choose your path, because I have laid it out before you. We know how much God respects human freedom. But how can we reconcile this freedom with His choice? He alone knows how to reconcile the two. We do not see these things clearly. And I think that, each one of us, no matter how small was our experience with the Lord, when we look back on it, we feel and see proof that the Lord was holding our hand, and that through each period of our lives, He was holding our hand.
We thought we were acting of our own volition, on our own initiative, with our own intelligence. I am not diminishing human capabilities. Not at all. I do not want to minimize the extraordinary capabilities of human beings. But I do want to acknowledge that whatever humans do, they are still limited. And only the Lord knows man. He alone knows man! That brings us back to the first sentence of the Holy Virgin, during the first message, on December 18, 1982: You know all things and yet you know nothing. Your knowledge is an incomplete knowledge. Even though we know things, I think that the person one knows least is oneself. So we do not know others either. Although we think we know them.
That is why it is always better not to judge, and to try to live in love. It is nearly impossible, I know that from experience! How many times I have asked the Lord, "Please, Lord, help me to stop judging others. Help me to love them, only." Being constantly confronted with a lot of people and things, even in the Church, frequently puts one in a state of judgement, I would say, without even noticing. You flee by imploring the Lord to put you in a state of love solely, but despite that, you return, without noticing, to a state of judgement. If only to see whether you are on the right path or not. Too see if what you do and say is agreeable to the Lord or not, if it serves the Lord or not. You place yourself in a state of judgement, of yourself and others, without wanting to do so. And the Lord tells us here, Do not choose your path, because I have laid it out before you.
The ecstasies, Fourth Period
Saturday, November 26, 1988 -- Monday, November 26, 1990
Here begins what I have called the fourth period of the messages of the ecstasies. In fact, a little later, on November 26, 1988, Jesus said to Myrna, Let your tongue be a sword that speaks in My name. A sword. This is the language of the prophets in the Old Testament. And this was said to Myrna, who scarcely dares to answer. When someone reproaches her for something, she does not reply, she just remains silent. And here is the Lord telling her, Let your tongue be a sword that speaks in My name.
Then the Lord presses further in His demand for unity. Prayer, love, unity. The Lord asked for this unity through two requests: one that depends solely on Him, and another that clearly depends on men.
Here is the one that depends on Him alone. On November 26, 1989, during an ecstasy, Myrna saw the Holy Virgin who gave her an extraordinary message. She told Myrna, Jesus told Peter, "You are the rock, and on it, I shall build My Church." As for Me, I tell you now, "You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY." There is certainly a complementarity between the two parts of this message. The beginning of Christianity rested on Peter's shoulders. And now, it is the beginning of a new Christianity, always loyal to the Lord, but which rests also upon the hearts of men. As for Me, I tell you now: "You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY." It is still Jesus who is doing the work, not us. Jesus built the Church on Peter. Now, the Holy Virgin tells us, He will build His unity in our hearts.
The structure and content of this message are inspiring. First of all, it is in the style of the "Sermon on the Mount." In this "sermon," Jesus gave Himself a place in the divine plan for salvation, a place that seemed surprisingly important to His contemporaries and listeners. Here, it seems to me that Mary, through this message, is giving Herself a place in the divine will for a return to Church unity, a place that might seem surprising to our contemporaries. Moreover, the surprising word here is the word unicity, which is the only word that can translate the Arabic word "Wahdanya." Unicity is more than union; it is much deeper. It goes right to the heart of the matter. Jesus is ONE. And since the hearts of the faithful are made in His image, they are ONE. Union tolerates, indeed postulates, diversity in institutions, in the expressions of faith and life. But in the hearts, there can only be unicity of faith and love. Before the One Jesus Christ, there is One Heart from those who love each other. Of course, such perfection is, humanly speaking, impossible. But who said that this would be the work of men? It is Jesus who is doing the work. Mary reminded us of that. He is the One who will build His unicity. Has the time not come to remember that? The initiative comes from Him, the work also will be His. We are the instruments. Christ asks us to try to be as available as possible, through prayer, in order that He may do His work in us.
Now, let us discuss the demand of Jesus and Mary, which, in terms of union, depends on men. The Holy Virgin and Jesus, during the following two messages, seem to reduce their demands for union to a bare minimum. On Holy Saturday, April 14, 1990, after having said, My children, you will teach the generations THE WORD of unity, love and faith, Jesus also said to Myrna, I am with you. But you, My daughter, will only hear My voice until the Feast (of Easter) has been unified. For eight years, Jesus has been asking for unity. Now, it seems that all He wants is unity of the Feast, Easter. "Since you have not given Me unity, at least give Me unity of the Feast... At least that. Because true unity, profound unity, is not your work." But unification of the Feast can be achieved, since it has already been accomplished in other parts of the Middle East.
A little after, on November 26, 1990, the Holy Virgin said exactly this to Myrna: Do not fear, My daughter, if I tell you that you are seeing Me for the last time until the Feast (of Easter) is unified. It seems that the Lord asked, asked, and asked again. Finally, He saw that we had not responded to His request. He then said, "Fine. Then at least do Me the favor of unifying the Feast of Easter."
But the Lord did not stop there. Again, through the Holy Virgin, He explained to Myrna that He is always with her, and with all those who want to unify His Church and His Feast. And He will give her a sign, the oozing of oil on her hands: As for the oil, it will continue to manifest itself on your hands to glorify My Son Jesus, whenever He wishes and wherever you go. Therefore, the sign is still there, but only to glorify the Lord! Let us remember the initial message. Remember God, because God is with us. If God is truly here, life must change.
Now I will provide further details on this fourth period. On November 26, 1988, Myrna was in Damascus, and as I said before, a lot of people were trying to figure things out. What was to be done to unify the Churches? Some said they felt that Soufanieh had divided the Church even more, rather than unifying it. Is that what the Lord wanted? Did He want yet another division, on top of the existing ones? Some people were really worried that there was going to be even greater division in the Church, even though we kept telling them that we were only at the beginning of Soufanieh, and that the Lord sees much further ahead than we do. We do not see beyond the ends of our noses. But people kept asking us whether something should be done.
The message of November 26, 1988 clarified things, and reminded us of two essential things: The Lord is with us, and He wants us to be in Him as He is in each of us. Those are His words. And, especially regarding unity of the Church, this does not depend on us, because we are incapable of achieving it. It was, I would say, Jesus' polite way of telling us: "Your history is so encumbered, humanly speaking, that you are absolutely incapable of ridding yourselves of it, of freeing yourselves of it. Allow Me to do My work. All that I ask from you is to fast and pray. I will take care of the rest."
And in the message, there are two extremely important sentences: In the first one, the Lord said, All I want is for you all to gather in Me as I am in each of you. For you all to gather in Me as I am in each of you. In the second sentence, the Lord said to Myrna: And be sure that I am with you and with you all.
Of course, He told her other things also: Do not fear if you do not hear My voice for a long time, etc. What is most important for the Church is this: The Lord is with us. He is even in us. He wants us to be in Him. And knowing that we are truly incapable of being in Him, that we do not know even that we are in Him unless He tells us so, (and how often, because of certain personal or group situations and for a thousand and one reasons, do we feel separate from the Lord, do we believe we are far from Him). Despite all that, He tells us, I am in you.
He has an unfathomable love for man. Even though I may repeat many times, "Lord, go away. I don't want You in my life. I want to do things that are against You," He tells me, "No matter what you do, I am in you." Whatever you do, I am in you. Not only "with" you! This is the sentence in which He summarizes His message: All I want, All I want: That is all He said. All I want is for you all to gather in Me as I am in each of you. It truly fills the heart with joy and faith to know that the Lord is there, that He is assuring us that He is within us, in spite of all our miseries, whether they be on a personal or community level. And this is all what He wants.
But what does He find so beautiful in us that He wants to be in us? He is infinite beauty. But what does He see in us? That is His secret. That is His secret. What a mystery! And that is why He seems to tell us, You do not understand. You do not know what to do. At least, do what you can and what I tell you to do: Fast and pray. I do not ask you for more. And that was quite a lesson for us.
Then, immediately after, there were the other messages. The Holy Virgin Mary reappeared to Myrna, after an interruption or absence of four years and four days. She reappeared to Myrna to tell her, in very simple language, that She also is with us, that Myrna does not have to be afraid, that she should rejoice, that she should work, that all that is to glorify the Lord, that Myrna should be happy and in peace and that she should urge everyone to pray. And all those who cooperate with Myrna will also benefit from this peace that the Lord gives to Myrna. It is very simple but extraordinarily beautiful.
Notice that the first sentence of the message given by Mary in Los Angeles, on August 18, 1989, begins exactly with the first sentence of the first message given during the first ecstasy, which occurred on October 28, 1983. That day, the Holy Virgin said to Myrna, Do not fear. All this is happening to glorify the name of God. And on August 18, 1989, the Holy Virgin said exactly the same thing: Do not fear, My daughter. All this is happening to glorify the name of God. It was as if the Virgin were completing the circle. Ultimately, it is the Lord who designs the circle, and it is He who causes it to manifest. But He said, "My children, try to cooperate, and let Me do My work."
And at the same time, this is an invitation to Myrna to rejoice. To rejoice about what? About the fact that the Lord allowed her to come to Mary. Therefore she was summoned from elsewhere. This is a real mystery, the mystery of all ordinary relationships between creature and Creator, and the mystery of all privileged relationships between the Creator and a "chosen" creature...Jesus had already said to Myrna, during the ecstasy of November 26, 1985: Go to the land where corruption has prevailed... And Mary came to tell her, during the ecstasy of August 18, 1989: Rejoice, [...], because God has allowed you to come to Me. The "where" and the "how" are mysteries, even for Myrna, who is experiencing these unique meetings. We, as witnesses, see only the external, transitory signs of all this!
The Holy Virgin also told Myrna, to educate her, "Do not worry about what people say about you, but remain always in peace." And God knows how much Myrna had suffered from the many accusations that were thrown at her, and that continued to come from all directions. Moreover, the Holy Virgin told her, Remain always in peace, because the creatures turn towards Me through you. What an amazing sentence! It was a way of telling Myrna that she had become an icon of the Holy Virgin. It was a sentence that I had read in a book by Father René Laurentin (France), about Soufanieh, where he wonders if Myrna is not also an icon of the Holy Virgin, since she oozes oil. And why not? Why not? The Holy Virgin said, "Yes:" The creatures turn towards Me through you.
Then, She gave Myrna a new mission: Tell everyone to pray more. Once again, prayer. It was an invitation to prayer: Because they need prayer to please the Father. The Holy Virgin is so gentle, but at the same time so worried, that from time to time She reminds us that the Good Lord is not satisfied, that there is something wrong and that the only thing that will please Him is prayer, the type of prayer that changes our lives. Therefore, we must pray.
Finally, She said this to Myrna, as if to console her: May the blessings of God be upon you and upon all those who have cooperated with you out of love for Him. Out of love for Him. Not for themselves, but out of love for Him. You see, this is an extraordinary spiritual responsibility through which the Holy Virgin reminds Myrna that everything we do must be done to glorify God. Therefore, if we truly want to serve the Lord, we must not worry about what others will say, we must rejoice, we must be in peace, because once we have become servants of the Lord, whether we want it or not, we become icons of the Lord. People turn towards the Lord through us. We may not be outwardly beautiful, or whatever, but it is through the image that we offer to others that they will see the Lord. This is true. People used to say that the priests represented Jesus Christ. But all Christians represent Jesus Christ.
And since we live in a Muslim society, where the majority of people are Muslims, for Muslims, we reflect the image of the Lord. Jesus will be beautiful for them if we have a certain beauty that attracts them. It will be moral beauty, of course, beauty of the heart, of the spirit. But if we cannot show them this beauty, even though they may read in the Koran about how beautiful Jesus is, they will judge Him by what we project. And then Jesus will be tarnished.
The second message of the fourth period, is the one that was given in Los Angeles. The third one is the message of the Holy Virgin to Myrna, on November 26, 1989. This message seemed to me to be one of the most important messages. I have already discussed it, but now I would like to go back to it, to stress a particular point of this message. The Holy Virgin said, My children, Jesus told Peter, "You are the rock, and on it, I shall build My Church." As for Me, I tell you now, "You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY."
Then, there is a second sentence, which constitutes another interesting point. Here again I feel that the Holy Virgin is bringing together the two ends of the circle which is the kingdom. Originally, Jesus built His Church on Peter. Now, Jesus is building His Church in our hearts. And note the balance here: Jesus told Peter... And I tell you now... We know that the Holy Virgin recognizes Herself as a creature, as a Servant. But here, it is pretty clear that the Lord has allowed Her to use these words and to adopt this tone of grandeur to remind us of something that we have unfortunately forgotten: You are the heart. The Church is not made of rock. You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY. Do you see? I felt so uplifted when I noticed this parallel: Jesus told Peter/And I tell you now. This now is a new beginning, but a beginning that will be solely the work of the One who is the Beginning and the End. There is no opposition, but an obvious complementarity.
The Church is the work of God. The Church is the work of God. And if the Holy Virgin tells us: Jesus will build His UNICITY, She is telling us that this unicity, which is much more than union, is the work of Jesus. Do you see? This is complementary. The circle is complete. Jesus has built His Church. The Church is the work of God. Jesus will build His unicity in your heart. Therefore, this unity will be the work of Jesus, not us.
It is as if someone told me, "Bring the stones and leave them here. I will do the building." Fine. I will bring the stones. I leave it to you to build what you want, when you want, and how you want. If you consider what has been written about the unity of the Church, and the many vain efforts that have been made over the years to unify the Church; if you listen to all the prayers organized here and there headed by priests, which do not seem to help the faithful progress in their prayers; when you look at all that, I think I can conclude, without any pretensions, that no one has come up with a concrete solution to the scandal of the divisions in the Church. But the Lord will put an end to these divisions! I shall build [there] My kingdom and My peace. You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY. Nobody sees what the Lord sees, or knows what He will do. Recently, I read in The Church of Arabs, a wonderful book by Father John Corbon, that we have searched, we have made mistakes, we have tried many things, but ultimately, the Lord will unite us. This is exactly what was said by Father Couturier, the pioneer of ecumenism: "He will do it in the way He wants, when He wants." Therefore, here is the Holy Virgin reminding us that if the Church is the work of God, the unity of the Church is the work of Jesus also.
Then the Holy Virgin goes to another level: She stresses the importance of prayer, using a word that She had never used before: I want you to devote your prayers to peace. It is as if She were saying, "Do not pray for anything but peace." And She sets a time-frame: From now until the commemoration of the Resurrection. We wondered, "What is going to happen?" Shortly after, the war in Lebanon, where Christians were pitted against Christians, provided us with the explanation. The Holy Virgin reminds us of our duty to pray for peace. Peace also is mainly the work of God! The Holy Virgin knows that prayer is the only means we have, by the grace of the Lord, to "pressure" the Lord. In Medjugorje, She had already said something that might seem absolutely astonishing to us and that Jesus had said before, but differently. In Medjugorje, the Holy Virgin stressed that prayer can stop natural disasters. That prayer can also stop wars. When Jesus said, "But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath" (Matt. 24:20), He knew that prayer can even change the Lord's will. He wants it that way. But He expects us to get down on our knees and implore.
Slowly, then, we are moving through this fourth period. We have arrived at the climax, which is the message of Holy Saturday, on April 14, 1990. That day, the Lord, in two short sentences, once again gave us two extraordinary new perspectives. First of all: You will teach the generations THE WORD of unity, love and faith. I am with you. Do you see? You will teach. If I tell Him, "Lord! Me?" He will say, I am with you. "Therefore, do not retreat."
We know how Moses, the great Moses, tried to escape. We know how all those who have been called by the Lord during their lives have tried to escape, on several occasions. And we know by personal experience that, frequently, we tell God, "Lord, I am entirely yours," and then, a minute after, we can change our minds. And the Lord is saying to each of us, I am with you. "You no longer have any excuses." But we have so many excuses! That is why He said, You will teach! "It is not you, it is Me. THE WORD of unity, love and faith, it is not you who accomplishes it, but start walking toward it. I need you." God needs men. "I need you." It is God who wanted it like that.
Therefore, the first perspective of this message is: You will teach. Here, the Lord asserts His mission. He confirms it to us again. When He speaks to Myrna, He speaks to all of us. Besides, in this message, He does not say, "My daughter, tell them," but: My children, you will teach. Good. That is the first point.
The second point is unity. How do we achieve it? And it is here that we started realizing that Jesus is unhappy. He uses Myrna as a scapegoat to remind us of our faults: You will not hear My voice until the Feast (of Easter) has been unified. But what has she done, the poor girl, to be punished like that? If we do not succeed at unifying the Feast, it will not be Myrna's fault. We are all responsible. Myrna is also responsible because we all share responsibility for each other. We share responsibility in grace as well as in sin. But there must be someone to serve as an intermediary, to remind others, before God, that something has gone wrong.
And here, we see that the Lord has given us some slack. After eight years of asking us to unify the Church, He has agreed to say, "If you are incapable of helping Me to unite the Church, at least unify the Feast." Unify the Feast. Especially since a few years ago, an official communiqué from the three Patriarchs of Damascus (Syrian Orthodox, Greek Melkite Catholic and Antiochian Greek Orthodox) declared that the difference in the dates of the celebration of Easter was not a theological question but simply a matter of the calendar. This made people say, "But if it is only a matter of the calendar, what are we waiting for?" If it was a question of theology, we might say, "Well, there are difficulties." But a calendar? Then let's go through the calendar! It's as simple as that!
Thus, these two fundamental aspects, in fact, two missions: You will teach. And: "I want you to unify the feast of Easter." Easter is the very foundation of Christianity. Easter must remind everyone of the unity of the Church. But we have been, and are now, incapable of carrying out these two missions.
And between these two perspectives, there is the great certainty: I am with you. I am with you. Because of the strength of this statement, I made this observation: the sentence that Jesus is always repeating in all His messages: I am with you, I am with you... reminds me exactly of Jesus' statement in the Gospel: [...] I am with you always even to the end of the ages." (Matt. 28:20). Unfortunately, on the day-to-day level, we have become so accustomed to the bureaucracy of the Church, the excessive planning, that we thought we could even plan the Spirit of the Lord, and even the presence of the Lord. And we ultimately thought that when, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us: "I am with you," He is in fact saying, "Farewell! See you later! Goodbye!" No. He said, "I am with you."
And that is why as a priest, I wonder how many times the Lord has tried, as in Soufanieh, or elsewhere, to knock on my door, or to knock on other people's door, to tell us, I am with you. And how many times have we closed our eyes, our ears and our hearts to avoid Him? We will know in Heaven, unless our countless infidelities and our repetitive attempts to avoid the Lord end up depriving us of the joy and the knowledge of Heaven...
This sentence, therefore, seems to be the climax of the fourth period of messages. In the two following messages, this climax has three dimensions. I would qualify the first as theological, the second as ecumenical, the third as iconographic.
I see the theological dimension, very condensed, in Mary's message to Myrna at Braaschaatt, in Belgium, in the evening of August 15, 1990, in the Church of the Sacred Heart. There, Jesus allowed the Holy Virgin to tell us, through Myrna, to pray for peace, at a time when the whole world was holding its breath with fear and anguish. Here is what Mary said: My children, pray for peace, and especially in the East, because you are all brothers in Christ. All brothers in Christ. Isn't that what Saint Paul said two thousand years ago? "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (see Gal. 3:28). How beautiful the world would be if we really lived by these words!
By repeating this sentence of Saint Paul, the Holy Virgin Mary destroys virtually all barriers that have been created throughout history, between East and West, between North and South, barriers that reached their worst during what was euphemistically called the "Gulf Crisis" or the Gulf War. Thus, the Holy Virgin reminds us that whoever we are, Black or White, Westerner or Easterner, Arab, Muslim or Jew, we are all "brothers in Christ." Whether we are brothers in blood or brothers in spirit, we are all brothers. We are all redeemed by the only Blood of the only Jesus Christ.
I see the second dimension, which I am calling ecumenical, in Mary's last message to Myrna, during the eighth anniversary, on November 26, 1990. In the first part of this message, the Holy Virgin expresses Her pain and the pain of Her beloved Son, at seeing that even the groundwork for unity of the Church, i.e. unification of the Feast of Easter, has not yet been accomplished. This is of extreme importance for us because in the Middle East the vast majority of the society which lives there is Moslem. This difference in the dates when we celebrate "The Great Feast" causes Mary and Her Son to suffer, and She says that very clearly: If it does not pain them to see that you are suffering doubly, I Myself, am a Mother, and it pains Me to see My Son suffering repeatedly. The suffering of Jesus is also the suffering of Mary. At the foot of the cross, there was Mary. But the Cross remains lodged in the body of Jesus and, therefore, in the heart of Mary, as long as Christians remain divided. Even more so because this division destroys His Redemption, with respect to non-Christians, who can see Jesus only through His faithful. Unity of the Church is an absolute imperative for evangelization.
The Holy Virgin is therefore suffering from the division of Her children, and She is complaining. Especially because for eight years now, the number of signs has been increasing at an amazing rate. They have become more numerous and more diverse. And to my knowledge, this had never occurred in the history of the Eastern Church. So it is not surprising to hear Mary complaining about people's lack of faith and their lethargy. That is why She announced that there will be no more visions, and therefore probably no more ecstasies or messages, until the Feast (of Easter) has been unified. The oil on Myrna's hands is the only remaining sign, and it is to glorify [Her] Son Jesus. The return of the signs is clearly linked to the unification of the feast of Easter. During years when Catholic and Orthodox celebrated Easter at the same time, the stigmata on Myrna's body opened, an ecstasy occurred along with a message, and oil oozed, just before Easter.
In the last message, that of November 26, 1990, it seemed that Jesus and Mary were weary, that they feel a sort of discouragement. Otherwise, how could one explain this sentence that Jesus said to Myrna, on Holy Saturday, in 1990: You will not hear My voice until the Feast (of Easter) has been unified? And how could one explain that Mary began Her message of November 26 with these words: Do not fear, My daughter, if I tell you that you are seeing Me for the last time until the Feast (of Easter) is unified? Does not all this mean, and this is painful, that the Lord and Mary are suffering because of this unreasonable division? And that they expect from us only what we are capable of doing, which is the unification of the Feast of Easter, for a new manifestation of signs at Soufanieh, a manifestation perhaps even more dramatic? We truly hope that this new manifestation will occur soon. Because if we do not listen to the Lord despite all the signs, what might He resort to in order to wake us up? He is capable of much.
We are praying. With all our hearts, before it is too late. We are praying for the Lord to open the hearts of everyone, starting with those who are highest up in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Church. We are praying for the clergy, and especially those highest up, to get in step with the laity. Yes, to get in step with the laity. In fact, the opposite should happen: normally, the shepherd walks before the flock. Unfortunately, for now, the laity are very far ahead of the clergy in this matter. The laity of all Christian communities. The most eminent clergymen seem to weigh things using a very different scale, which unfortunately does not seem to correspond to the desires of the faithful, nor to the desires of the Lord, nor to today's reality. May the Lord and Mary accelerate this project of unification of the Feast, so we can once again see their generosity bestowed upon all their children without distinction, in Damascus and everywhere.
Finally, I will address the third manifestation, which I have called iconographic. I find it quite obvious in the second part of this message of Mary given on November 26, 1990. Mary said this to Myrna: Therefore, tell My children, "Do they want or not to see and remember the wounds of My Son in you?" As for the oil, it will continue to manifest itself on your hands to glorify My Son Jesus, whenever He wishes and wherever you go. Myrna's wounds are the images of Jesus' wounds. Oil will continue to ooze from Myrna's hands as it had oozed, and as it continues to ooze from time to time from the miraculous icon or its reproductions, here and there. What else can we conclude but that Myrna is an icon of the Lord, by the will of Jesus and by the expression of His Mother?
Myrna is a living icon, as should be every human being created in the image of God. She is a living icon, by a privilege for which she can take no credit. All the credit goes to the choice of the Lord, a mysterious choice, and the chosen person must pay the price. And here, Myrna pays the price by becoming a chosen victim, to help repair the large and collective fault consisting of the division of Christians. She will therefore be deprived of the vision of the Lord and Mary until, at least, the Feast has been unified. As she was told by the Holy Virgin, this is for her a double suffering.
She is a victim of atonement. Who must remain in peace in order to pursue
her mission of evangelization. Mary told her, Remain in peace, remain
in peace, My daughter. And not only: Remain in peace. But also,
so that He may give you peace, so that you may spread it among the people.
Mary is clearly committing Myrna to this mission of evangelization. This
mission of evangelization is being given to a young woman who knows nothing
and who is not ashamed to admit it. She is an icon of Jesus and an icon
of Mary; this is the way Jesus and Mary wanted her. They told her that.
That Myrna will not develop a monstrous ego because of all this is additional
and obvious proof of the power of divine grace, which uses the humble and
the lowly to build His kingdom and His peace. Such is the logic
of God. We must remember that it is completely opposite to the logic of
ONGOING EFFECTS OF SOUFANIEH
At Soufanieh, the tangible physical facts (the oozing of oil from the miraculous icon, the stigmata, and the ecstasies) stopped on November 26th, 1990, which was the eighth anniversary of the phenomenon. That day, the Holy Virgin appeared to Myrna in an ecstasy and told her: Do not fear, My daughter, if I tell you that you are seeing Me for the last time until the feast [...] is unified. The feast is Easter. Therefore, tell My children: Do they want or not to see and remember the wounds of My Son in you? If it does not pain them to see that you are suffering doubly, I Myself, am a Mother, and it pains Me to see My Son suffering repeatedly. Remain in peace, remain in peace, My daughter. Come, so that He may give you peace, so that you may spread it among the people. As for the oil, it will continue to manifest itself on your hands to glorify My Son Jesus, whenever He wishes and wherever you go. We are with you and with everyone who wishes the Feast (of Easter) to be One.
In a previous message, on Holy Saturday of 1990, Jesus spoke to Myrna who, upon awakening from the ecstasy, was crying. Jesus just told her these two sentences: My children, you will teach the generations THE WORD of unity, love and faith. I am with you. But you, My daughter, will not hear My voice until the Feast (of Easter) has been unified. Therefore, Jesus announced to Myrna that there would be an interruption of the messages, that she would no longer see Him in an ecstasy. But we were thinking that if Jesus disappeared, the Holy Virgin might not disappear. And we told that to everyone.
In fact, the Holy Virgin appeared to Myrna on two occasions after that. First, on August 15th, 1990, when Myrna was invited to Belgium by Father Franz Van der Voort. She went to Belgium from August 9th to September 2nd. And in the evening of August 15th, after the celebration of the divine liturgy, Myrna had an ecstasy while she was praying with Father Van der Voort near the altar. During that ecstasy, she saw Jesus, who did not say anything but who blessed the crowd, and she saw Mary, who told her this: My children, pray for peace, and especially in the East, because you are all brothers in Christ. Then, on November 26th, 1990, on the eighth anniversary, the Holy Virgin gave her the message that I quoted earlier. Therefore, in this second message after the last message given by Her Son on Holy Saturday of 1990, the Holy Virgin also told Myrna that she would no longer see Her until the feast of Easter was unified.
In fact, since that date, none of the signs has occurred, no opening of the wounds, no ecstasies, not even an oozing of oil from the original miraculous icon of Soufanieh. But the oozing of oil from Myrna's hands has re-occurred times and times again. And on one occasion, I myself saw the oil oozing from an image of Our Lady of Soufanieh that was printed in France by the Jaccard(2) brothers. They had just given the image to Myrna, during their first trip to Soufanieh, which was also their second trip to Damascus, in April of 1990. We were praying before the icon. Myrna was holding the image. At the end of the prayer, we saw that the faces of Jesus and Mary were streaming with oil.
Thus, people are continuing to see oil oozing from images. A friend of mine who visits Damascus regularly was telling me lately that he went to Damascus with a group of Lebanese, and that while they were praying, oil started oozing from Myrna's hands. Therefore, this tangible fact, in this specific aspect (the oozing of oil from Myrna's hands) continues to occur. It seems as if the Lord continues giving us signs of His presence, as if to say, "I am here among you." And this sign amazes all the scientists.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER
Beyond these visible phenomena, there is a much more important issue: prayer. Prayer is the first and foremost aspect of Soufanieh. Prayer is the only true reality. Between God and man, the great -- I would say the sole -- contact, is prayer. Which must extend into love and service. And if the Lord has given us so many signs, it is really, mainly, to invite us to pray.
In Arabic, the word "prayer" comes from a root meaning "to link" or "to bond." "Assilat," relating, "assalat," prayer. "Assalat," in Arabic, is prayer, which is relating to God. It is the relationship between man and God. And if this relationship does not exist, everything crumbles and nothing holds. God is on one side, and man is on the other. Therefore, if the Lord enjoyed giving us so many signs, this is really to help us re-create this link of prayer which was, may be, gradually loosening. To re-create this link of prayer, to take us back gently to Him.
Therefore, the essence of Soufanieh has always been prayer. People responded with a spontaneous and massive reaction of prayer. Since the first minute, and right until now.
For sure, people rushed massively at the beginning of the phenomenon, but things have now taken another dimension, more reduced, more modest. But this continuous presence of the crowd at Soufanieh, a crowd of people coming from Damascus, from Syria, from everywhere, all day long, this continuity maintains. In the periods during which nothing was happening, like the period between November 1985 and November 1986, when absolutely nothing was happening, one thing manifested itself permanently: prayer. Now, again, apparently there is nothing except a few manifestations of oil oozing from Myrna's hands. But there is the main thing, prayer. For us, this is the most important fact.
And this fact has provoked a spiritual wave among all Christians, not only in Damascus, but from all parts of Syria, mostly in Aleppo, Syria. In Aleppo, we have seen a physical effect of the Soufanieh phenomenon, since January 24, 1988. A small reproduction of an image of Our Lady of Soufanieh oozed oil in the house of an Armenian family, where the husband is Orthodox and the wife is Catholic. And her name also is Mary. After that, also in Aleppo, there was oil oozing from other images, including one image of Our Lady of Soufanieh, in the house of another Armenian family, one of the very modest homes, and then in many other homes.
In the first two houses where oil has oozed, in Aleppo, prayers are organized on a regular basis. And always led by priests. These two houses are those of Orthodox Armenian families. Unfortunately, prayers there are led by Catholic priests only. The Orthodox Armenian Bishop visited the first home. He saw the oil, he prayed, then he said, "This is a blessing for you," and he never returned back to that home again. But this initiated a movement of prayer which has extended to other homes in Aleppo.
Because of these two facts, and because of other manifestations that are too long to explain here, we are living a true wave of spiritual renewal which is quite difficult to talk about if one has not experienced it. One must go there to feel it. In fact, in Aleppo, we see a real rise in prayer, a most astonishing rise. So much that it has provoked the opening of several churches for more prayer hours. For now, there are only Catholic churches, from all communities. For hours of worship every day. At different periods of the day, in different churches. Thus, a person who can pray today but cannot pray tomorrow, finds the most convenient church for him, at the time of his choice. One must truly go to Aleppo to experience this spiritual renewal which is occurring. This is not a simple rise in church attendance. No, it is a spiritual renewal for many people I know. And this is only a few among a much larger crowd. There are especially many families who are living an astonishing spiritual renewal. I would say therefore that this is the big fact. Here, I am talking about Syria. But I will have the opportunity also to say what I have seen everywhere, in France for example, from that increase of prayer which has grown beyond Soufanieh but which continues to grow at Soufanieh, because of the small image of Our Lady of Soufanieh.
So that is the most important phenomenon of Soufanieh: prayer. This return of man to God, through prayer, to praise Him, to thank Him, to ask Him for forgiveness and to live from His breath on Earth, while waiting to meet Him in the eternal face-to-face encounter.
FAMILIARITY WITH GOD
At Soufanieh, people prayed immediately with great simplicity, in great familiarity with God, especially at the beginning of the phenomenon. Then, prayers were somehow organized. But at the beginning, we were there facing the icon and each one of us was improvising. We used to stay there for hours, praying night and day.
Here is an example. On Friday, December 10, 1982, at 6:30 a.m., Nicolas phoned me saying, "Father, the image is oozing oil." I answered, "I'm coming." Two minutes later, I was at the House of the Virgin. And I saw something like teardrops dripping from the image. At seven o'clock, as Nicolas has no phone in his house, I went to the neighbors. I phoned several people from different communities, who have a certain social and religious influence, to witness this fact and to report it to others.
Two friends, George Maarraoui and Edouard Hilal, whom I phoned, arrived at the same time at eight o'clock sharp. Each of them is married, and is at least forty-four years old. They both have pleasing voices. One is Greek Catholic, the other is Greek Orthodox. They stayed facing the image, praying and singing, from eight a.m. to one p.m. And people were entering the room and leaving it in complete silence. So much that I have noted in my personal diary, "This day reminded me of the visit I just made with the choir to Lourdes, France." It was the same atmosphere.
When Edouard and George left the room, as I stayed all the time near the icon, I followed them and asked them, "What time is it?" Edouard looked at his watch and said, "That's impossible! One o'clock in the afternoon?" I confirmed, "Yes, it is one o'clock." He said then, "But it's impossible! I spent five hours with George singing for the Holy Virgin? Is this possible? I never leave the house before having my breakfast!" In fact, after my phone call, they rushed. And without seeing the time pass, they stayed for five hours, praying and singing before the icon!
How many times have I seen people coming, carrying their sick, kneeling before the icon of the Holy Virgin and talking to Her, spontaneously, open-heartedly. I assure you, it makes me cry each time I think about it. It is deeply moving. How many times, before the icon, have we seen people improvising, singing spontaneously, by themselves. The first weeks, it was like that all the time. Then, slowly, slowly, we had to organize things. We started praying the rosary. Between the decades, few hymns, few improvised prayers. How many times, have I myself improvised prayers. But we were asking ourselves how these words were coming from the bottom of our hearts. I don't know.
The late Awad, Nicolas' oldest brother was an almost illiterate man, an unskilled worker who used to like drinking and smoking a lot, and to whom life consisted simply of working to raise his little family. His life had completely changed. He started composing hymns to the Holy Virgin, in a very weak Arabic. He was searching, as much as he could, to get inspired by music or a popular song to compose a song for the Holy Virgin. This worked so much for him that, to my knowledge, he composed at least twenty songs, including a hymn that we sing every day since, and that has spread all over the world. I have translated it into French and was sung by the crowd at the "Festival of Hope," at Besançon (France), in September 1991. This hymn is a moving song. Nicolas' brother was one of those who were so spontaneous with the Lord.
And until now, therefore, in spite of all the organizing we have done for the prayers, there is always a place for improvisation. How many times have we suddenly heard someone talking loudly to the Holy Virgin! There is really a familiarity of a divine presence.
And this is the impression of Father Adel Khoury, the dean of the faculty of theology of Münster in Germany, who is a Lebanese priest. He told me, "At Soufanieh, we feel as if we are with God. The Holy Virgin is there. And when I hear people praying, I can feel that these people are talking to the Holy Virgin who is with them. They are not talking to someone who is far from them. She is there, it's as simple as that."
It is this familiarity that will save us, I am sure. It is really this familiarity with God, through Mary especially, that will save us. For us, God is very close, despite everything.
THE MOTHERHOOD OF MARY
At Soufanieh, the Holy Virgin reminds us insistently of Her motherhood. She did that in a very powerful way, through a word that She said to Myrna, during one of the first ecstasies, on Friday, November 4th, 1983.
During that ecstasy, Myrna's parents were crying. Suddenly, they saw Myrna open her eyes, point her index finger toward her mother, call her by her first name and say, "I am Her daughter before being yours!" Then, she went back into the ecstasy.
When she awakened from the ecstasy, Father Joseph Malouli, who was there, asked Myrna, "What happened?" She answered, "I saw the Holy Virgin, and She gave me the order to tell my parents that I am Her daughter before being theirs." Father Malouli continued, "And what have you done?" Myrna said, "I don't know." In fact, she executed the order without knowing!
Through this sentence told by Myrna to her parents as ordered by the Virgin Mary, we can remember that we are all her children, before being the children of our parents. Because, finally, in the essence of our being, we are the children of God. And we will return to God. He made us gods, whether we like it or not. Consciously or not, we are, as Saint John says, children of God.
The Holy Virgin came to remind us of that. Just by saying to us, during the messages, My children. My children. And on other occasions, like any mother, She calls us to gather around Jesus. Through the messages, in fact, the Holy Virgin reminded us that She is here to gather us at the feet of Jesus, and to reunite the church. She reminded us of that during the apparition of March 24, 1983, when She said, among other things: Establish a church. I did not say: "Build a church." The Church that Jesus adopted is One Church, because Jesus is One. The Church is the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. He who has divided it has sinned. And he who has rejoiced from its division has also sinned. Jesus built it. It was small. And when it grew, it became divided. He who divided it has no love in him. Gather! I tell you: Pray, pray, and pray again! How beautiful are My children when they kneel down, imploring. Do not fear, I am with you. Do not be divided as the great ones are. You will teach the generations THE WORD of unity, love and faith.
You see, therefore, the presence of Mary with Her children. She assembles them. She invites them to prayer. She entrusts them with the task of gathering Her children. She makes missionaries out of them.
SERVANT OF THE LORD
For some people, Mary is not acting on Her own but on behalf of the One She serves. And that is why on March 24, 1983, She started Her message by saying: My children, My mission has ended. My mission. That is to say that, at Soufanieh, the Holy Virgin considered Herself to be a servant of the Lord. And that is why, immediately after this sentence: My children, My mission has ended, She said: That night, the Angel told Me: "Blessed are thou amongst women." And I was only able to tell Him that "I am the Servant of the Lord."
At Soufanieh, the Holy Virgin gave us an extraordinary lesson of service. She is all beauty. She is the Queen of the Heavens and the world. And in spite of that, She knows that She is the servant of the Lord. She came to Soufanieh to prepare the way for the Lord. Somewhat as She prepared it in Palestine. And when the Lord arrived, She disappeared. And that is how it happened at Soufanieh. We realized that a few years later.
One of the last messages given by the Holy Virgin at Soufanieh, or rather the last message given by Her before disappearing for four years and four days, was that of August 15, 1985, which occurred during the prayers of the evening of August 14. The Holy Virgin said this: (My children,) Happy anniversary. It is always a feast for Me whenever I see you all gathered together. Your prayer is My feast. Your faith is My feast. The union of your hearts is My feast. This is a mother who calls upon Her children to gather, to please Her by gathering. And everywhere, the joy of every mother is to see her children gathered together. Especially those who belong to Jesus. And after that, the Holy Virgin disappeared completely. For four years and four days. This is very significant.
At first, we did not notice this, but after, we realized two very important things. First of all, that here also, Mary remains the servant. And secondly, that She prepared the way, not only for all Christians but also for all Muslims, for the arrival of Jesus, the manifestation of Jesus at Soufanieh.
For Muslims, Jesus is someone very great. In the Koran, Jesus is someone very great, but He cannot be God. He cannot have been crucified. For Muslims, this is not possible. And therefore, Redemption does not exist. So, if at the beginning of the phenomenon we talked about apparitions of Jesus, the phenomenon would probably not have been accepted. We can, of course, suppose many things afterwards. But, to the extent that we know the situation, if Soufanieh started with an immediate manifestation of Jesus, the reactions would have been very different. But the Holy Virgin, who is highly respected by Muslims and by all Christians, in the Middle East, faithful or not, even by non-believers (we have non-believers, very few, but still a few), the Holy Virgin is someone special. Instinctively, every Christian facing a difficulty, whomever he is, says immediately, "Ya'Adra! -- O Virgin!" We don't even say "O Virgin Mary!" There is only one Virgin, and that is the Holy Virgin! The doors and the hearts of Muslims as well as Christians are always open for the Holy Virgin.
Therefore, when the phenomenon started through this small image of the Holy Virgin and Jesus, people accepted it with fervor. Of course, some people refused to believe, some criticized. But for most people, it is the Holy Virgin who was there, so they were willing to believe. And when afterwards, Jesus appeared (after the Holy Virgin) and gave extraordinary messages to Myrna during the ecstasies, the way was already prepared for Him, and people were able to accept Him. Tens of thousands of copies of the little booklets of the messages were distributed to people. People were asking for them. They were reading them. And for many people, this booklet became their bedside and meditation book.
So here also, the Holy Virgin gave us a lesson of service. Even if She is the Queen over everything, She remains a servant before God and before Her Son. And one of the most extraordinary sentences that She said during Her fifth apparition, on the evening of March 24, 1983, is this: My children, My mission has ended. That night, the Angel told Me: "Blessed are thou amongst women." And I was only able to tell Him that "I am the Servant of the Lord." I am happy. I Myself do not deserve to tell you: "Your sins are forgiven." But My God has said it. The Holy Virgin is a servant.
Because the Virgin is the Mother of Jesus, She is the great mediator. In the Byzantine church, among the prayers we address to the Holy Virgin is one that we pray every day just before the Epistles and the Gospel, in which we say to Mary "You, rescue of Christians, who is never refused..." This is to recognize that the Holy Virgin has full power over Her Son Jesus.
And this is why, in one of the most deeply moving messages given by the Holy Virgin, during the second ecstasy, on Friday, November 4, 1983, She said, in Arabic dialect, a gripping message full of power and tenderness at the same time. That day, after having said to Myrna: Go down and tell them that you are My daughter before being theirs..., the Holy Virgin added immediately: My heart has been consumed over My only Son. It will not be consumed over all My children. As such, the translation in its literal sense is not what is meant. It gives the impression that in this sentence, the Holy Virgin is saying: "I wash my hands of My children." But, in Arabic dialect used by Mary here, this means clearly, "If I was unable to save My Son from death and My heart has been consumed over His sufferings, now, I am going to do My utmost to save you." It is exactly the contrary of what a literal translation can mean. My heart has been consumed over My only Son. The poor Virgin was at the foot of the cross, absolutely incapable of doing anything. But once crowned Queen of the Heavens and the Earth, and once in Heaven after Her Assumption, She became the All powerful. Isn't She the "All powerful supplicant," as referred to by one of the Saints? And She wants to do Her utmost to save Her children. Therefore, She is not going to let Her children get lost by their own fault or because of others. She is going to do Her utmost. This is where we truly touch the divine motherhood. And the motherhood of Mary towards all Her children.
Thereafter, on August 14, 1987, Jesus gave us a message that confirms this full power of Mary over the heart of God. This sentence says a lot about the place of the Holy Virgin in the heart of the Trinity: My daughter, She is My Mother from whom I was born. He who honors Her honors Me. He who denies Her denies Me. And he who asks something from Her obtains because She is My Mother. I assure you that when Father Malouli told us this message, he was quite overcome. He had difficulties repeating this short message to us. And he who asks something from Her obtains because She is My Mother. We have the impression that Jesus is confusing all the theology which seeks the truth about the Holy Virgin, whether She is simply a mediator or really the One who gives... Jesus says: "But She gives! She is my Mother, I cannot refuse Her anything."
Therefore, at Soufanieh, the Holy Virgin -- as well as Jesus -- has reminded us that She is the All Powerful, while remaining a creature who knows Her limits. But She also knows Her power as a Mother over Her Son. And Her Son is the second person of the Trinity. Therefore, the Holy Virgin knows Her power over the Trinity. This is why, in Her message of August 18, 1989, during Myrna's second trip to the USA, the Holy Virgin called upon all believers: Tell everyone to pray more because they need prayer to please the Father. We get here to what the Holy Virgin is saying also in Medjugorje or in Kibeho (Rwanda), and that She already said at La Salette (France). The arm of God is heavy, and has apparently begun to weigh heavily. It is time to pray. Otherwise, how could one explain the proliferation of these divine manifestations today in the world?
A Greek Catholic Bishop from the Middle East, Mgr Elias Zoghbi, had the courage to write a detailed article two years ago in a Lebanese magazine, published in French, Lebanon's Magazine. His article was entitled: "Towards where is the world heading?" He wonders, based on the numerous apparitions of the Holy Virgin in the world, whether God really intervenes in this manner, and whether this is a sign that something is going wrong in the world. Because the Lord sees where we are going, -- and we are probably headed for self-destruction all over the planet. And God loves us so much that He does not want us to be ruined, and He is trying to warn us: "Stop! Hold it! Think about it, pray!"
THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE
The choice of a couple by the Lord, to induce the phenomenon of Soufanieh, is extraordinarily appropriate. At a time when, everywhere in the world, families -- which are the central core of society -- are shattered, the Lord chooses a couple.
This fact provoked a reaction of great questioning for Myrna and Nicolas, as well as for a lot people in Damascus and elsewhere. For a while, Myrna even thought about leaving Nicolas to become a nun. She asked me the question and I told her, "Myrna, if the Lord had wanted to choose a single woman, He had a wide choice because the world is full of single girls and nuns. And if He has chosen a newly-wed woman, and especially a young bride, it is because He has things to tell us about marriage. Marriage is sacred. And Saint Paul compares the relationship between a man and a woman to that between the Christ and the Church. It is a sacred relationship. Therefore, why are you thinking about leaving Nicolas?" But the thought of leaving him had deeply shaken her.
Same reaction from Nicolas. To the extent that, later, at the end of November 1986, Nicolas had to confess to Father Jean-Claude Darrigaud, a famous television reporter on Channel 2, in France: "At the beginning of the events, I spent three months not daring even to think about Myrna as my wife. I felt in a state of sin each time I even thought about her. And, in spite of all that was said to me, despite what priests told me, it was only very slowly that I was finally able to accept the fact that Myrna, although if chosen by the Lord, and because she was chosen by the Lord, is, to a higher degree, my wife.
A lot of people said, "But, if really Myrna is an object of divine choice, she cannot continue her married life or her social life." To suppose that she has a social life, the poor girl! She leads a life even more reclusive than nuns in a convent. But people were saying, "She must become a nun." Even now, unfortunately, there are narrow-minded people who still question the choice of God as well as the sacrament of marriage and life within the marriage. They continue to inveigh against her, saying, "No, this is not possible. Myrna must become a nun."
Jesus has responded to that. Jesus and the Holy Virgin have answered this question. The Holy Virgin did answer during the ecstasy of November 25, 1983. She said to Myrna: I have not come to separate. Your married life will remain as it is... After that, on September 7, 1984, the Holy Virgin also said to her: Live your life, but let not life prevent you from continuing to pray. And Jesus was quite explicit, on November 26, 1987. Quite explicit. During a very long message that He gave to Myrna that evening, He said, among other things: Continue in your life as wife, mother and sister. That is quite a program: Wife, mother and sister!
Myrna spent several years without becoming pregnant. On May 1, 1985, the Holy Virgin, after having addressed a message calling for unity, held Myrna's hand in Hers. The Holy Virgin, as described by Myrna, was looking to the ground, and had a very sad face. She said to Myrna: My (small) children, assemble. My heart is wounded. Do not allow My heart to break because of your divisions. Then She added: My daughter, I shall give you a gift for your hardships. A short while after, Myrna became pregnant. And on October 15, 1986, she gave birth to a baby girl which was named Myriam. Exactly forty days after, she had an ecstasy on November 26th, 1986.
Therefore, through the events of Soufanieh, one of the messages of the Holy Virgin is a message to remind people of the sanctity of marriage and the necessity of the sanctification of marriage. And that is very important at a time when, in Western countries, marriages have been breaking up for a long time, and when, in Middle Eastern countries, unfortunately, we see more and more divorces and separations.
Nicolas is really surprising. Somewhat like Saint Joseph. People often tell him that. And he replies humbly, "Who am I?" One must have seen and known Nicolas before. As for me, I did not know him. But at the beginning of the phenomenon, he was always very well dressed, always worried about his appearance. And then, slowly, this man has been transformed by the Holy Virgin, by Jesus, and has gradually become more and more familiar with God, and has bared himself before God. Now, you feel his presence, but it is a very humble presence. Silent, very considerate, very concerned with safeguarding the primacy of God and prayer. He does not allow anything to hamper the atmosphere of prayer. But he never seeks to glorify himself. Never. If he ever suspected anyone from profiting from the prayers at Soufanieh, either by words or manners, he immediately remedied the situation. With utmost discretion.
I quote you some examples or replies of Nicolas, which characterize him better than a speech. Let's start with the reaction of George Barsa, a man who has been a neighbor and a very close friend of Nicolas. He is a man about the same age of Nicolas, about fifty years old, who grew up at Soufanieh. He emigrated to the United States, where he has lived for at least eleven years. I visited him in 1984, in New York. He invited me to dinner, and there were several people there, including some Muslims. After the meal, he asked me, "Father, tell me what is happening at Soufanieh? I was raised in that neighborhood." So I told him a little bit about what was going on there. After a while, he asked, "But who is Myrna's husband?" I replied, "Nicolas Nazzour." He practically jumped out of his seat. He said, "That is impossible! I know Nicolas very well! We used to organize parties together!" I looked at him and said, "George, you forget that the Lord sometimes likes to pull off pearls from the mud..." You forget Saint Paul. And Mary Magdalene, what was she? The Apostles, who were they? Saint Augustine, who was he? Look at the history of the Church! Nicolas is not different from these people. We do not sanctify ourselves. God pulls us up from the mud, and if we take part in His grace, we can become saints. So is Nicolas!"
Nicolas has truly changed, and in a surprising manner! Here are some of his reactions. At the beginning of the phenomenon, an important official of the Syrian secret service came to Soufanieh. He took Nicolas aside for a moment and told him, "Nicolas, I pity you. Now, it is only the beginning of the phenomenon, and your home is no longer yours. What will things be like in a few years? You will have to close your door." Nicolas replied, "I did not open this door. The One who opened it will close it."
A second reaction. The Defense Minister himself, general Mustapha Tlass, had come. He had seen oil oozing. Afterwards, he returned with the staff of the Syrian army to pray at Soufanieh. He took Nicolas aside and told him, "Nicolas, I think that your home will become a place of pilgrimage. You can no longer live here. The government is offering you an apartment that you will choose wherever you want, to be comfortable. Nicolas replied, "What God has blessed, I would not exchange for anything in the world."
This was at the beginning of the phenomenon. After that, on Good Thursday, April 16, 1984, when the stigmata opened for the second time, the wound on Myrna's side measured exactly 10 cm 2 mm (.5 inches) . It was so deep that one of the physicians there said to Nicolas, "We must stitch the wounds." Nicolas replied spontaneously, "doctor, the One who opened it, will close it." And that same evening, the wound was completely healed.
On November 1987, I was in France. I had returned to Damascus on November 22, 1987. Before visiting my parents, I went to Soufanieh. The patio and the rooftop terrace were newly renovated, very simply, for the fifth anniversary of the phenomenon. Nicolas took me to see the rooftop terrace where the Holy Virgin had appeared to Myrna. So I noticed that the whole floor was paved, except the spot where oil had oozed from Myrna's hands and where Myrna had said that the Holy Virgin stood. At this spot, a pedestal was placed, with a beautiful statue of the Holy Virgin. Nicolas said, "While we were repairing the patio, we used to gather here daily for prayers." I asked, "Were there a lot of people?" He replied, "Sometimes about seventy. Sometimes more, sometimes less." I wondered, "But you are mad! Nicolas, this is an old house. With the concrete that you have added, plus the tiles for the paving, the pedestal and the statue, all this could collapse with seventy people!" He looked at me and said, "But Father, you don't really think that! The walls are not supporting the Holy Virgin; She is supporting all of us!" Such a reply gives a good idea about the religious evolution of this man. I assure you that I felt quite small before him when I heard his answer.
On another occasion, I was at Soufanieh, explaining the events to a group of pilgrims. A woman turned to Nicolas and said, "Blessed are you, Nicolas. It is because you are good that the Good Lord is giving you this grace!" He replied, "Please do not be disillusioned, Madam, but it is in order that I become good!"
One day, I went to Nicolas' home. Nicolas gave me an envelope on which was written: Father Elias Zahlaoui. Presbytery of Soufanieh, Damascus, Syria. I laughed and said, "Well! Presbytery of Soufanieh! Therefore, this house belongs to me!" And Nicolas replied, "But Father, since when did it belong to me? It has never belonged to me." Nevertheless, this house belongs to Nicolas and his family. Thus, through these anecdotes and answers, you catch a glimpse of what Nicolas is like. He continues to live very simply.
But the last thing I would like to recount here is an event that happened about a year and a half ago. One day, I was at my office. Nicolas showed up unannounced. He stayed a while and we chatted for a moment. During the conversation, he said these words, which I noted just after his departure: "Father, it is obvious for me that the Lord wants to strip me from everything. He wants me to throw myself at His feet, completely naked, on just a small mat. Since the beginning of the phenomenon, I have not succeeded at any of my projects. I am sure that the Lord wants to bare me completely in order that I become His prisoner. And I am ready."
When you hear such a thought, said so simply, without the least affectation, you really feel a divine presence throughout the evolution of this man, Nicolas!
A PAGE FROM THE GOSPEL
Soufanieh has been for me, and for many others I believe, like pages of a lived Gospel. Take, for example, the transformation, not only of Nicolas and Myrna, but the availability to the Lord of all the family members and so many other people.
I guarantee you that during the first forty-five days of the phenomenon, there were in addition to Myrna and Nicolas, twenty-seven people who were fully available. Twenty-seven people who were ready for action, totally available, in permanent service to welcome people, especially the sick, and to pray with them. Myrna's father, mother, brothers and sisters. Nicolas' mother, a very old, wrinkled woman, who barely measures 1.5 meters (5 feet), and weighs hardly 35 kg (90 pounds), and who until now, says only, "I am at Mary's orders." And she spends her nights and her days cleaning the house, without complaining, so that the house will be clean for Mary's visitors. And Nicolas' brothers and their wives, Nicolas' sisters and their husbands, their children, the neighbors... During the first forty-five days, I counted exactly twenty-seven people constantly available, in prayer and in service, for everything and for everyone.
Of course, as in the Gospel, there have also been people who tried to profit somewhat from this phenomenon. People who claimed to have seen visions, received graces, and so on, many things in fact, and who tried to gain people's interest and respect. There have been people who have tried to profit from this phenomenon and get themselves noticed.
This is exactly as in the Gospel. When we see how the Apostles themselves tried to exploit Jesus and even, as did Saint Peter, to divert Him from His mission to the point that Jesus has told him: "Get behind Me, Satan!" (Matt. 16:23), things become clear. Nothing surprises us.
Believe me, only Myrna and Nicolas, with their closest relatives, were completely humble. Humble and disconcerted, not knowing what to do, trying to pray but sometimes not knowing how to pray. And therefore, being carried along by their spontaneous feelings. Therefore, there is the call and the reply. And the reply can vary a great deal. But in general, at Soufanieh, there has been an availability, a joy and a total self-effacing before God, in prayer.
WITHOUT ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING
At this stage, I want to emphasize a point. It is a simple conclusion, taken from so many changes that occurred at Soufanieh, or because of Soufanieh.
At Soufanieh, we feel a familiarity with God, a tangible familiarity. But for every spiritual change, we realize our great powerlessness. God alone can make spiritual changes, even the slightest ones. As long as we make an effort. I don't mean that man is absolutely incapable, and that God alone does everything. But the more I observe myself, and the more I observe the people who pray at Soufanieh and who have changed because of Soufanieh, the more I realize the depth of the word of Jesus that shocked me when I was at the seminary and has disgusted me for years: "Without Me, you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). In fact, at Soufanieh, I have touched the truth, the deep truth, both so human and so divine, of these words: "Without Me, you can do nothing!"
There are days when, should I hide it, I feel truly desperate. The Lord is capable of changing us. Lord, why don't You change me? And it is then that I understand what Saint Paul meant, when he wrote, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). These two sentences are related: "Without Me, you can do nothing," and "I can all things through Him who strengthens me." The whole thing is to tell Him: "Lord, enter in me, fill me!"
But there are so many obstacles and darkness within us, you see. And, finally, I can't bring myself to choose. We would so much like to be able to tell Him, "But, take me, dismantle me and remake me!" Unfortunately, there is so much conditioning in us that makes us reverse in practice what we assert to Him in words.
AGAINST MATERIAL TEMPTATIONS
In our country, there is one thing that one must always remember: God is present everywhere. God is really present everywhere. When you ask someone, "How are you?", he will reply, "Al-Hamdoulillah." That is to say "Thanks to God!" God's name is on everyone's lips. To such an extent that if a foreigner passes by, he will say to himself, "these are very religious people."
At heart, we Arabs are very religious. However, we are subject to conditioning from within ourselves and conditioning from a consumer society, that, in my opinion, has finished by consuming God Himself. God continues to be on the surface of a lot of things. But He may be consumed by this consumer society which is consuming us now.
Emerging from a period of lethargy in different areas, and longing to evolve as humans, we tend to believe that only science will be able to deliver us from this underdevelopment from which we have suffered for hundreds of years. We have raised science -- and through science for a while Marxism --, to be a god that is going to liberate us from this underdevelopment. Thus, people, mainly the young, became devoted to science, especially science from Western countries. And they become devoted to Western philosophy and atheism. All the more because, seeing that religions in our countries are constantly tearing each other apart, people tend to react by saying, "Let's get rid of these religions that only cause rifts, and even civil wars."
Therefore, there is a clear effort to exclude God and to cling to strictly human values, especially science and philosophy. Add to that, power and money, and you get what we believe to be EVERYTHING. Science and philosophy, that is to say a certain vision of the world, and power and money, what more do we need? It was, and still is, our daily temptation. And here is this small drop of oil which has cracked the whole structure we were building: A closed structure, of the human being who relies only on himself. This small oil drop has come to say: "But where are you going? Who do you think you are? Why do you forget God? But He is with you. He loves you."
Let me tell you the story of a young Muslim and his reaction to the Soufanieh phenomenon. He was a young artist, a student of the Art School, in Damascus. A very talented artist, quite skilled in painting, sculpture and music. One day, he phoned me. He was trembling. I said, "Come to see me." He came, but he was pale. "What's wrong?", I asked. He replied, "I haven't slept all night, I am disconcerted, Father." I asked him why? In fact, I had known this young man for at least a year. A remarkable young man, full of devotion, generosity and humility, in spite of all his talents. He had never told me that he was a Marxist. He used to come very often to help me in the parish, especially for the paintings for the theater, in the basement of the church. He had painted an immense panel (the whole back-stage of the theater), for free. And when I had tried to offer him some money for his tremendous work, he said, "Father, I did that out of love for you, not for the money." When he was painting the panel, he often used to hear people talking often about the oil at Soufanieh. Finally, he asked someone, "Take me to Soufanieh." He went there and took an image of Our Lady of Soufanieh. And he was watching the people during the prayers. He was holding the image in his hands. Suddenly, he saw oil oozing from the image he was holding in his hands. He felt as if he had received a crushing blow on the head. He kept the image, tried to find his way out of the crowd, returned to his house, and went up to the attic. He spent the whole night thinking. His head was "stuffed" -- to use his expression -- with Marxism. He had read hundreds of books about Marxism. For him, the world was closed. These oil drops made a small opening in this closed world. So I asked him, "And what did you do after that?" He said, "Father, I washed, then I read the Koran and I prayed." He had read the Sura of Mary. I asked, "When was the last time you read the Koran and prayed?" He answered, "I had never read the Koran as a believer and I had never prayed. This was the first time."
Now, that really fills volumes about people's reactions. There is truly a call from God through this drop of oil. This call takes place also, of course, through the stigmata, the ecstasies, and the phenomenon of prayer.
Note also the reaction of a young priest from Damascus, Father Boulos Fadel. God knows how much the clergy in Damascus has been hostile to the phenomenon for several years. A great number of clergymen are still hostile now, stupidly and stubbornly. But for a while, I saw a young priest coming regularly to pray at Soufanieh. The phenomenon has been occurring for three-and-a-half years. One day, at the end of the prayers, I called him aside and asked him, "What brought you to Soufanieh?" He replied, "Father, I simply thought about the fact that people have been praying here for three-and-a-half years, so I told myself that these people are surely not stupid. They must have seen a sign. So I wanted to pray with them. I told him, "Bless you! Continue."
After that, Father Boulos Fadel witnessed a lot of things and he is now deeply involved in the phenomenon. I told him once that he will have certainly a lot of work to do at Soufanieh. In fact, Father Malouli is quite old now. As for me, although I look quite sturdy, I feel that I am weakening very rapidly. Therefore I told him, "Prepare yourself, Boulos, to take over from us. You will certainly have a great mission at Soufanieh."
In 1990, when Father Franz Van der Voort invited Myrna and Nicolas to Belgium, Father Malouli preferred to stay in Damascus. As for me, I was already scheduled for a series of summer camps for the youngsters. Father Boulos was the only available priest. So he traveled with Myrna and Nicolas and this is how he started leaving Damascus to assist Myrna. His initial reaction to the Soufanieh phenomenon has been very sound and the Lord has rewarded him for that.
However, some clergymen still refuse to participate in any conversation about Soufanieh. The laity remain polite and reserved to a certain extent. Even if they are against it, they are capable of listening. Unfortunately, there are priests who, until now, refuse to even hear of Soufanieh. There are three priests that I have challenged. Three different priests. Two are Greek Catholics, and one is a Jesuit. I, myself, have challenged them by telling them, "At least come and see! See what is going on. You do not have the right to refuse a priori. Then you will be able to tell people whether this is all an act, or trickery. You don't have the right. One day, the Lord will ask you for an explanation. What will you answer Him when you will be facing Him and He says (these are the words I used) "I knocked on the doors of Damascus and you had the mission of spreading the Good News. What did you do?" Are you going to answer Him, "My superiors were barricaded in their ivory tower? I waited for them to tell me what I had to do?" But if our superiors continue to barricade themselves in their ivory towers, who will bring them the right information to help them understand what is going on, who, if not you? If not me?" Unfortunately, until now, some clergymen still stubbornly refuse the phenomenon.
SOME VARIED REACTIONS
In Syria, most of the people are Muslims. Most of the government's members are Muslims. And at the time when the events of Soufanieh started, there was a violent -- and even bloody -- clash between the government and Muslim fundamentalists called the Muslim brothers. Therefore, the situation was troubled.
Nevertheless, the Syrian government had the wiseness and religious sense to send a delegation, formed of a physician and four officers from the secret service. Two officers presented themselves as such, and the other two found their way through the crowd. This was their mission. They had to know exactly what was going on. They led their investigation in front of everyone. And at the end, their investigation was summarized by these words of the physician to the officers, "God is great!" Each one of them, before leaving, took a small piece of cotton saturated with oil, placed in a small plastic bag. And since then, the government has had a very respectful attitude toward the phenomenon of Soufanieh. We have never been bothered. Never. On the contrary even.
On December 16, 1982, high-ranking officers from the general police of Damascus came to Soufanieh. With utmost respect. They wanted to see and hear for themselves what was going on, and they said, "If you need anything to maintain order, call on us, we are ready." In fact, immense crowds came to Soufanieh. But we never needed the police services. And until now, the same respect continues, be it from the government or from people who come to get information or to pray.
The Defense Minister came to Soufanieh several times, once even on Christmas eve (1982), accompanied by his wife and the late Prime Minister, Mahmoud Ayoubi. That night, before their very eyes, oil oozed from the image of Our Lady of Soufanieh, even though, a few minutes before, the image was completely dry. Thereafter, the Defense Minister told me on two occasions, first at his office, then at his house, before a Syrian Bishop, Mgr Boulos Bourkhoche: "Father," he said, "when you will write your memoirs about Soufanieh, do not forget to say that I am a witness." He said that while thumping on his chest. For an Arab to thump on his chest while saying something, is to take God and his own heart as witnesses of what he just said. Therefore, until now (and this will surely continue) the government's position has been very respectful.
The ecclesiastical authorities have been very careful, as they should. And sometimes, too careful. Then, after that, things developed. The Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate released an official communiqué on December 31, 1982, recognizing in the events of Soufanieh an "extraordinary vision," as it was referred to. Contrary to Eastern theological tradition, especially Orthodox, the communiqué described the small paper image as a holy icon. The communiqué proclaimed two important things: the necessity of theological and medical commissions of inquiry, as well as the transfer of the "Holy Icon" to the Holy Cross Orthodox church, located about 500 meters/yards from the House of the Holy Virgin at Soufanieh. The transfer took place and it was grandiose. Unfortunately, forty-three days after the transfer, the image was returned to the house, with utmost discretion. And since then, the Antiochian Greek Church of which Nicolas is a member (because Nicolas is Greek Orthodox and Myrna Greek-Melkite Catholic), has taken a negative standpoint.
But the other Churches, as well as the apostolic nuncio to Damascus, have slowly been informed about the phenomenon. Since then, the nunciature is informed on a regular basis about the phenomenon, and I know for a fact that the Church of Rome is studying the case seriously.
Other bishops have been involved in the phenomenon without expecting it. That was the case of Mgr Boulos Bourkhoche. As for Mgr George Hafoury, a Syrian Catholic bishop, who sarcastically denied the phenomenon, became convinced in October 1986 when he saw, in the house of his own brother in Beirut, oil oozing abundantly from an image of Our Lady of Soufanieh. And he even came to Soufanieh, on December 15, 1986, to bear witness. That day, he cried on two occasions while testifying. Nevertheless, he was filmed on videotape and he accepted to be filmed with tears in his eyes. Moreover, he was the first to make the phenomenon of Soufanieh known to the whole world, by writing in the Western magazine Stella Maris, printed at Fribourg in Switzerland, the first article published about Soufanieh.
After that, other bishops have followed. It is necessary to mention particularly the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, His Holiness, Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka Iwas 1st, who became interested in the phenomenon in August 1987. He carefully studied the whole issue, watched the videotapes, listened to me in a private discussion at his office, to find out the facts. He continues until now to remain informed about the phenomenon, to the extent that he accepted to be filmed on May 28, 1990, to give on videotape his testimony officially recognizing the phenomenon of Soufanieh. He testified in very moving words, full of simplicity, truth and depth. On several occasions, he told many people who were attacking Soufanieh, "My children, go and pray at Soufanieh, because the hand of the Lord is working at Soufanieh." He had the courage to say that. Finally, quite recently, he published, in the magazine of his patriarchate, a very long review of my book, to tell people, based on the facts, that he also recognizes Soufanieh.
For the people as such, at first, it has been a shock. Oil oozing from an image. Crowds of people have come to the house where that phenomenon was happening. Among them, as around Jesus, there were people who believed and those who did not, those who were sarcastic, those who thought themselves very intelligent, those who thought they could not get involved because of their situation, be it social, economical, political, etc. There have been also touching expressions of faith and unusual conversions, at least compared to what I have known. But firstly, the shock provoked a massive movement of prayer. And that is what counts for me. All the rest seams insignificant for me. The criticism, the sarcasm, there has been some and there always is, as the disbelief and the stubborn refusal of a lot of people until now, especially among the rich of Damascus. Even among the clergymen, even though the phenomenon has lasted for eight-and-a-half years by now, some insist on blindly refusing it a priori. They believe that there is a so-called physiological or psychological -- perhaps physical -- explanation to the phenomenon.
Some people pretended that Myrna was taking special pills to make her body ooze oil. So what about the images that are oozing oil, everywhere, in Syria, in Lebanon, in France, in America. All these images, how do they ooze oil?
Others attribute this phenomenon to intervention of the devil. I can hardly imagine a man who is in his right mind and who dares to say, after so many years of a phenomenon which has brought deep and widespread prayer that this is the work of the devil. And nevertheless, these people who say these things, are sometimes, unfortunately, high-ranking clergymen.
On the other hand, people's reaction has mainly been prayer. After the first shock, which brought massive crowds to Soufanieh, slowly the movement found a more natural dimension, more plausible and more modest. And I believe that this is providential.
In Damascus and Syria, the phenomenon was taking quite modest dimensions, even humble, thus touching a small category of people. Slowly, the phenomenon of Soufanieh was spreading and widening. So much so, that a lot of Syrians started saying, "We heard about Soufanieh in the United States and here, in Syria, we have not even taken the trouble to go there to pray."
I will quote you a case. A few months ago, I ran into a married couple I know, a physician and his wife. They asked me, "Father, tell us about Soufanieh." I replied, "Why are you asking this question only now?" The woman said, "My husband's sister has come to visit us from Canada. She had just stepped off the plane, and she asked us, "Take me to Soufanieh!" We were stunned: She, who lives in Canada, why is she requesting to visit Soufanieh, while we - who live in Damascus - have not taken the trouble to go there!" And she asked me, "Father, tell us what is going on there." We made an appointment and I went to see them. That evening, there were five physicians -- among them this woman from Canada -- and about thirty other people. We spent the whole evening talking about Soufanieh. I told them all about the phenomenon. After a while, the host, who is a physician, took me aside and said, "Father, until now, I have been quiet. But from now on, I can no longer remain quiet. Soufanieh provokes me." And many people have come to this.
Therefore, for the general public, there has truly been -- as Father Malouli and I often call it, a sort of an evangelical experience. A shock, a reaction of prayer, and then a certain humility on the part of many people. Then, slowly, in a very modest way, the phenomenon enters the hearts. He does it discreetly. God is discrete.
THE SIGN OF OIL
Oil has a very rich symbolism in the Middle East. The olive tree and the vine are living plants. The olive tree is the tree of peace. It is also the tree that produces olives, which give oil. And oil is a symbol of light. It is a symbol of food. It is a symbol of strength: we smear it on wrestlers' bodies. It is a symbol of healing. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we learn that oil was poured on the wounds of a man left to die on the road. In the Old Testament, oil is a symbol of the royal and messianic unction. Finally, for us Christians, oil is the symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, at Soufanieh, the repercussions of the phenomenon of oil are remarkable. In November 1990, the Holy Virgin warned Myrna that ecstasies would cease until the Feast of Easter was unified. But at the same time, She told her that oil would continue to ooze from her hands.
It gives the impression that the Holy Virgin is reminding us here that man is the great icon of God. That the great icon of God is man. The image of Soufanieh represents the Holy Virgin and Jesus. For us, there is nothing beyond Jesus and the Holy Virgin. But the image remains a piece of paper. And oil is also oozing from a human body. Therefore, we get the impression to find the truth of man who, since the beginning, has been called the icon of God (cf. Gen. 1:26).
We get the feeling that the Lord, through Myrna and others who also ooze oil, wants to remind us that man is the icon of God. This is a very beautiful thing. This is something that reminds us the importance of man in God's eyes and the priority of man in God's thoughts. This really makes us think. It is good to be aware of that, through this manifestation of the oil that continues to spread.
At the beginning, nobody would have supposed that the phenomenon of Soufanieh could last that long. We are soon going to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary. This persistence of the Lord makes us truly think. We can observe similar repercussions from other phenomena that happened nearly during the same period of time as Soufanieh. In fact, since the 1980s, there has been Medjugorje in Yugoslavia, Kibeho in Rwanda, San Nicolas in Argentina, as well as several other manifestations. These also are persistent and ongoing phenomena.
It is as if, because of the obscurity of the current world, before this massive refusal of a spiritual dimension, the Lord is making Himself intensely present. He is more persistent than ever, by sending tangible physical signs that nobody can deny. At Damascus, He is sending the sign of oil, oil that oozes from a small image. This makes us think seriously.
THE MYSTERY OF GRACE
But there is a point which really remains a mystery. When we see signs of this magnitude, of this continuity, of this constancy, how can we remain not only indifferent, but even hostile? How can we not try to understand what is happening, especially if we are responsible at a certain level for people's faith? I assure you that it is truly a mystery.
Thus I have personally touched the suffering of Jesus as, in the Gospel, He performs miracles, not to do wonders, but to help people open their eyes and see, the simple people as much as the powerful. Thus I have understood why Jesus, at the end of His life on Earth, shouted with anger, an anger that arises from an immense and disappointed love: "Woe! Woe! Woe!" He did the impossible. And we remain amazed when we see how the high priests wanted to kill not only Jesus but also Lazarus, to make disappear the tremendous sign which was the risen Lazarus. Even Lazarus. This is truly a mystery.
When, at the seminary, during my theology courses, we were told that faith is a grace and that sometimes we refuse it, I used to revolt against this assertion because I had the impression then that man was irrelevant. But, at Soufanieh, I noticed that in spite of the respect that God has for human freedom, the domain of grace and faith remain of the Lord. He is the one who gives. Even faith, He gives it. It is true that man moves toward God and that if he takes one step, God takes a thousand in exchange. But, here also, God has to give something.
And that is why those who had the grace to see Soufanieh, to live Soufanieh, had no hand in it, starting with me. We had no hand in it. Which means that we cannot take any credit for the phenomenon. If the Lord considered it a good thing that I be part of it, it was against my will, contrary to my nature, contrary to my habits, contrary to my training, contrary to my commitments to the Church and to the country. I had no hand in it. There have even been days where I wanted to be finished with it.
THE EVENTS OF SOUFANIEH AND MY LIFE AS A PRIEST
Therefore, if someone asks me how much the events of Soufanieh have changed in my life as a priest, I reply, "A lot, yet very little." First of all, what has changed for me is that I fully understand that all initiatives always come from God. All initiatives. By nature, I am quite enterprising and volunteering, and very independent. So I have seen that God has led me "by the nose," despite myself. I have tried to understand as much as I could. Perhaps to avoid, perhaps to analyze the phenomenon, perhaps simply to understand it. Perhaps also to escape the opposition that was mounting within the country. But on many occasions I have strongly felt that the Lord had taken hold of me.
And, the more I moved forward the more I saw in retrospect that the Lord had taken hold of me for a long time now. Slowly, I have understood the statement of Saint Paul: "God, who separated me from my mother's womb" (Gal. 1:15). Thus, to no credit of mine. And when I reflect back on my life, about what my mother told me about when I was a child, and about my life in my neighborhood, about my life at the seminary, about the different phases of my life, I can only thank the Lord, because He pulled me up by my bootstraps. He sustained me. One of my spiritual advisors, Father Paul Ternant from Jerusalem, had this same feeling. One day he told me, "Elias, I can see that the Lord is pulling you up by your bootstraps. He will sustain you."
Nevertheless, God knows, and I know too, how many times I would have been lost, I would have lost myself. And believe me, I am not seeking to glorify myself. Therefore, I have no credit in this. I even have the impression that I have been and still am, in some ways, until now, an obstacle to Soufanieh, for a lot of people, and perhaps even for the high-ranking clergymen. Because I am against the major trend in the Church, not only of Damascus, but of all my community in the Middle East. And this is not to my credit. I have had a kind of intuition. The Lord certainly has a lot to do with it, probably with everything, and I have thought that I am able to follow this intuition, that I have summarized on the picture of my sacerdotal ordination.
This picture represents the Christ who comes down from the cross to pull man, who has fallen apart, out of his miseries. A very beautiful picture that was drawn with Indian ink by my former spiritual advisor at the seminary, a missionary "Père Blanc", Father Jacques Bodet. I asked him if I could use it as my ordination picture. And I put three sentences on it, that summarize everything for me.
On the front of the reproduction of the picture, I put: "In the beginning was the Word, [...] and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:1 and 1:14). That was to indicate my desire to be incarnated as an Arab priest in the Arab world. On the back, I put two sentences. First this one: "The Lord said, 'No one can serve two masters. [...] You cannot serve God and mammon'" (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13)." Thus my desire to be independent, to be free in relation to money. Because I know full well that if there is a factor that undermines and has undermined the Church, it is money. And the second sentence: "The Lord said to Paul, 'Do not fear to speak, do not ..., I am with you' " (Acts 18:6). Since the beginning, I have chosen to be true. With all my misery, with all the miseries that have occurred in my life, the depth of which I could not have imagined, I said to myself, "I must try to be a real priest. A priest incarnated in the Arab world, free in relation to money, and real." That has put me in opposition, often directly, to my community.
How profoundly have the events of Soufanieh changed me? They have anchored me in this orientation. More than ever. Being anchored more and more has liberated me, has allowed me to ignore almost anything. Of course, I have my personal weaknesses. And I sometimes reproach Jesus for not having delivered me from them. Each one of us, as Saint Paul, has a splinter in the body.
But aside from that, Soufanieh has been for me like an immersion in God. A kind of immersion, already in eternity. But an immersion that also forced me to see reality in all its misery and to face this mysterious and painful question: "But Lord, if you love man so much, why do You allow so much misery?" A question that every man asks, that even children ask. I still ask myself this question. Consequently, I try to answer it through my misery and my pettiness. Prayers have assumed a place in my life, not a large place but a little more than before. In the past, I had a hunger for prayer. But I wasn't responding to it. I used to let the work devour too much of me. I ardently wish to serve young people. And when you serve them, you need 48 hours in a day!
However, since the beginning, Soufanieh has made me keenly feel the futility of our human efforts for the service of God, and the necessity of prayer. I told my bishop, on December 30, 1982, at the beginning of the phenomenon: "Your Grace, I feel that I have to leave everything, to simply go and live in a cave and pray. Only God is capable of doing something." And I remember having said, "I feel that what we do in a hundred years, the Lord does it in a minute!" He answered me, "Father Elias, the day that the Lord wants you to do so, He will give you a sign, but for now, we need you."
So I have tried to pray more. At least by a kind of a breathing prayer that I try to live, in the night, in the day, when I am with young people, when I write, when I am at the church, a bit like the Russian pilgrims. Even if, for now, I do not always manage to have intense times of prayer, I feel the need to pray.
On the other hand, Soufanieh has really liberated me. Because for years, the phenomenon of Soufanieh put me in real confrontation with the Church, and with the society, which, in my country, despite its practical materialism, is very dependent on the Church. People -- in our psychological structure -- are like a pyramid. They depend on the top of the social pyramid. And if the one at the top does not give a sign, the mass does not move forward very much.
At Soufanieh, for a very long time and despite the crowds, we came up against a kind of refusal, through which we have felt some hostility. Also, it was not unusual for me to feel that I was in conflict with all the city of Damascus. Because there were very few people who came to Soufanieh, compared to the number of the Christians and the population of the country. There have been very long periods where I have felt an atmosphere of hostility, and this was painful. Some people have even brought very hurtful accusations against me which a patriarch said to my face (although in a roundabout way). On February 21, 1983, when I was ordered to cease going to Soufanieh, that was a relief for me. So I spent ten months away from Soufanieh, breathing again and saying to myself, "Finally! I'll be left in peace!"
But finally, when I realized that some priests were taking advantage of my absence from Soufanieh to claim that even I had discovered that it was a trickery, I thought, "I am returning to Soufanieh; it is better to obey God than men. If my bishop asks me why I have returned, I will find the words to say what I should say." And on May 1, 1991, the same day of my departure for France to publish the French edition of this book, I went to my bishop to offer him a copy of my book, published in Arabic, relating the events of Soufanieh. When I handed him the book, he said, "But I have been waiting for it." Therefore he knew, even though since 1984 he has never asked me any questions about Soufanieh. And I continue to go to Soufanieh, as if nothing had happened.
THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH
The messages of Soufanieh have brought about another very deep change. Because of these messages, people have henceforth realized that we no longer have the right to remain divided. We no longer have the right. The sin of division must cease. Besides, many people have started to say that enough is enough. Why are we divided and why do we maintain the division? Is there some truly theological reason, or is this simply a matter of ancient history?
Unfortunately, among the clergy, some still seem to cling to what they believe to be privileges. But on the whole, despite some exceptions, as far as I can observe among my numerous friends in Damascus and elsewhere, the laity has by far exceeded the clergy in communion with the One Christ, and by far.
Our desire now, what we work for, is precisely this minimum asked for by Jesus and Mary, which is the unification of the feast of Easter. For us, the unification of the feast of Easter is very symbolic. Without Easter, Christianity would not exist. Saint Paul said so (cf. 1 Cor. 15:17). Also, how could we admit that Easter, which is the starting point of all Christianity, is now the symbol of the division of Christians? And this, within a world with a non-Christian majority. How can we admit that? All the more so since we know full well that the basis of this difference of dates is not a question of theology. It is a matter of the calendar. But, through this question of the calendar, there is an old historical conflict between the East and the West, a history of privileges to maintain, of prestige to safeguard, etc. We do not have the right to do so.
A few years ago, during a homily, I spoke about the necessity of unifying the feast of Easter. After the mass, three young girls came to me and said, "Father, we don't want the words to simply remain words. We want something concrete." And these girls were not even from my community, they were Orthodox. Greek Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox. So, together, we wrote a short text of a few lines that summarizes our desire of unifying the feast of Easter, and the proposal for Catholics to adopt the calendar. Then, we had to bring the larger number of people to sign this petition. But before undertaking any action, I decided to show this text to a Catholic bishop. When I did so, exposing to him the popular desire of unification of the Feast, the bishop gave a truly sad reply that tells a lot about the mentality of a certain hierarchy and some clergy members: "We will not bow down to them." That is to say, we Catholics will not bow down to the Orthodox. So I looked straight into his eyes and said, "But your Grace, when the Lord came down to Earth, did He not bow down before man?" He did not reply. Then he said, "All right."
So we printed this short text and asked people who agree with the statement to sign it. Within two weeks, we gathered ten thousand signatures. But there has been no follow-up to these steps because at that point a certain group among the clergymen blocked the process. Nevertheless, now we have the impression, in fact it is quite clear, that the clergy can no longer block the process.
Around 1990, I learned that in theory, in Lebanon, there had been a first decision to unify the feast of Easter as of 1991. In Egypt and Jordan, it has already been unified: Catholics celebrate the Feast on the same day as the Orthodox, who represent the majority. If my brother cannot come to me, I go to him. And if I lose my pride, I am the one who wins. And after all, I win the love of my brother. And before Muslims, at least, we bring a testimony of unity. This is not total unity but this is a sign, and it is an asset for us. In Jordan and Egypt, Christians have succeeded in doing that for twenty-two years. Why can't we achieve that in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq? We hope that this will soon be accomplished. There are still some obstacles but, we hope to overcome them.
Therefore, because of Soufanieh, there has been this great change in people. There is now this desire of unity. A desire for unity which is already materializing in the search, or the call, for unification of the feast of Easter. But beyond this desire to unify the feast of Easter, there is a desire to unite the Church. A divided Church cannot testify. Humanly speaking, nobody sees how to get through these divisions. Thus, there have been meetings between His Holiness Pope John-Paul II and Patriarch Zakka Iwas 1st of the Syrian Orthodox. In 1984, they asserted, in an official communiqué, that the theology of the two Churches is one.
So if there is no schism, if there is no heresy, if it is the same theology, what are we waiting for to realize unity? How will unification be achieved? By absorbing the small Church into the larger one? By upholding this same Church but with closer ties with the Holy See? How are the other Churches going to do this? Orthodox Churches aside, will the Catholics, the Greek Catholics, the Syrian Catholics, the Maronites, the Armenian Catholics, the Chaldeans, merge into a Church that gathers all the Churches of the Middle East? How will unity be achieved? Nobody knows!
This is why at Soufanieh, the Lord promises to rebuild the Church Himself. He is there, He who sees, who knows. We should simply try to do what He has asked for: pray, and serve with humility. And to truly seek to be with Him, as He want us to be. Not as we imagine ourselves, not as history has made us. As He wants us to be. And by then, through us, He will build His One Church. A Church that will be based on love, that will be able to work for peace and will be, as He says in the messages, His Kingdom and His Peace. That is His Church. The Church is the Kingdom of Heavens on Earth. It will be His Kingdom and His peace. And that is when -- via this Church which will be His kingdom and His peace --, He will realize His UNICITY, that we do not understand.
The important thing is first of all for each person to achieve unity with the Lord, by being as obedient as possible to His grace. And, beyond this unity of the Church which represents the Kingdom, the peace and the love of the Lord, the Church will be able to work in order to achieve this universal brotherhood in Jesus Christ, as the Holy Virgin has reminded us: You are all brothers in Christ.
Will the Church, as in the days of Saint Augustine, have the courage to "belong to non-Christians", to get rid of everything that can prevent it from being totally itself, authentically itself, and to christianize its non-Christian children? By then, the Lord would work extraordinary miracles in the Church. Or will it be by creating conditions of friendship, of prayer, which would prepare the way to Christianity for non-Christians? I don't know. But the fact is that the Lord promises us a unity that will truly achieve, by His own hand, by His own initiative, His peace and His Kingdom, and, therefore, universal brotherhood.
THE CHRISTIANS OF SYRIA
The Christians in Syria are full-fledged citizens. We Christians, are natives of this country. There were Arabs in Syria well before the arrival of Islam in the year 636. Before Islam, Christianity existed throughout Syria, which has been (remember the Acts of the Apostles) one of the cradles of Christianity. Antioch was one of the most flourishing cities of apostolic Christianity.
But at that time, there were already in Syria, in the native population, real Arab tribes: the Ghassanite, the Manadhira, the Taghaliba, and others. And reacting against the Byzantine who oppressed them, who imposed increasingly heavy taxes on them and who persecuted them because of theological problems, these Arab Christian tribes welcomed Muslims as their brothers. However, Christianity remained the religion of the majority in Syria until the 14th or 15th century. Unfortunately, under the terrible pressure of the Turkish regime, a larger number of Christian Syrians gradually drifted into Islam.
As of 1990, in Syria, with a population of approximately 13 million residents, Christians represent about 12% to 15% of the population, divided into at least eleven Catholic and Orthodox communities, with a majority of Orthodox, plus Protestant communities, and, unfortunately, a lot of sects, among which the Jehovah witnesses, a very active sect which has spread nearly everywhere. All these Syrian Christians know that they are Arabs, one hundred per cent Arabs and Syrians. Of course, they suffer from a complex because of their small number. Under the Turkish regime, this complex affected a lot of people, and caused some Lebanese and Syrian Christian philosophers to think deeply and try to find a solution to their problem. And this is how the idea of Arab nationalism has developed. Arab nationalism is the product of the thinking of Christians from Syria and Lebanon who tried to avoid being in a minority state.
Because of that, in Syria, Christians are present everywhere. They can be hired for any position, except as president of the Syrian republic. And if we compare their influence to their number, we realize that this influence by far exceeds their number. Therefore, there is no problem for Christians compared to Muslims. Only that we are bound by ancient history, by relationships between the East and the West.
Since the end of the third century, the relationship between Christians from the East and those from the West has become a power-to-power relationship. The two poles, Rome and Constantinople, were competing with one another. And in the East, Constantinople tried to take full control of the Eastern empire, placing unbearable taxes and ecclesiastical domination on large populations who, to reject its yoke, finally created separate Churches, in the guise of theology. It took centuries to discover that the theological conflicts really hid political and ethnic conflicts. But the results are still there: separate Churches that are trying to survive.
The relationships between the Christians from the East and those from the West were therefore already troubled well before the arrival of Islam. Mohammed died in the year 632. In 636, the Muslim armies were in Syria and throughout the Middle East. And, partly because of dissensions between the Christians, Islam -- which constituted a threat to the religious order and to the political, social and cultural orders --, had spread very rapidly throughout the Middle East and had even spread to the Western countries. Later, the Crusades, which reflected a desire to expand to the East, altered the relationships between the East and the West, and provoked a historical trauma the consequences of which have not yet disappeared.
The advent of the Turkish empire, rooted in Constantinople in 1453, which was also for a long time a potential threat to the West, confirmed the separation between the Eastern and Western Churches; a separation which had been accelerating and deepening for centuries. The Eastern Christians, being completely separated from the Western Christians, turned in on themselves. Unfortunately, their past history, so deeply influenced by suspicion and hostilities, had not prepared them to unite together, and each Church tried to preserve itself to survive.
This was the situation until the arrival of Latin missionaries in Syria, Lebanon, and the entire Middle East. These missionaries created a Christian circle that by then perhaps appeared to constitute a core of unity with Rome, a bridge between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. But that was achieved through a kind of attrition inside the local Orthodox Churches. And, finally, this led to the creation of different Eastern Churches related to Rome, which achieved the full division of the Eastern Orthodox Church already so divided in itself.
Divisions within each of the Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox communities led to the creation of Greek, Syrian and Armenian Catholic communities... We are still feeling the repercussions of these divisions. And until now, in spite of ecumenical language that can be very sincere, most of the Orthodox of the Middle East hide a real fear of everything Catholic: "In the past, these Catholics took some of our children; what have they planned for us now?" That is why even now, within the Eastern Church, relationships between Catholics and Orthodox have been fundamentally altered. Even though we can show love, abnegation, and a desire to achieve true unity, there is always underlying doubt that saps these relationships.
Finally, there was colonization. The powerful West colonized the East by force. Then, before leaving, the West split it into small states with more or less artificial boundaries, thus creating domestic conflicts. That has been proven in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs in Palestine, which today dominates the political scene in the Middle East. And then recently, in the Gulf conflict, which revealed the desire of Western countries to share the East between themselves in order to weaken and dominate it, and thereby profit from its resources and prevent it from being an autonomous power.
Therefore, relationships between the East and the West have been dominated by a dialectic of force, of power, that had nothing to do with Christianity. When the powerful impose their desires and their will on the weak, and limit their very existence, that completely conceals the Christian perspective. Because when countries consider themselves in terms of power, they remove themselves from the sole power that exists, which is God. And in all this, what is the image that Christians of the West are conveying to the East, which has a Muslim majority?
Eastern Christians, especially Catholics, who are considered to be related to Rome and therefore to the West, are somehow in an unstable situation. They are Christians as well as Arabs, and therefore feel and live this unfairness of the West toward the East. How can they disregard this political and historical context? It is impossible. On the other hand, caught in this huge conflict between the East and the West, Eastern Christians have been the most forgotten. And feeling reduced to their own resources, which were declining anyway, they have themselves forgotten that they were there for others, the Muslims, and not for themselves.
When Jesus said: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:19), He instructed every Christian to be a catalyst wherever he is. If Eastern Christians have survived until now, this is not because of their power nor because of the West, but it is surely because of God's will to make them able, perhaps one day, to revive His presence in the East.
But Eastern Christians felt so small, so weak, that they forgot that their only power is God. They searched for support in others. Especially since the arrival of the Latin missionaries, who offered them the possibility of better levels of culture and education, a certain degree of financial power, and possible support from Western powers. Indeed, that has helped them but has also dissociated them from the Arab Muslim society.
It is particularly true for Catholic Uniats who also have forgotten that their Christian brothers remained faithful to Orthodoxy. This has created an imbalance in the Eastern Churches, the Uniats looking sometimes upon the Orthodox with haughtiness, forgetting that these Christians are their brothers, and that together, we are the leaven in the immense dough of Islam, within which we have to radiate the presence of Jesus. Instead of seeking to create bridges of unity with the Orthodox Churches, we have created a gap that has been widening. Now, we want to fill this gap. But what has been torn during centuries can hardly be restored in a few years. Human wounds heal with great difficulty.
Moreover, the climate of violence and anguish devastating the Arab world has very bad consequences on Christians, who nowadays are greatly reduced in their number and hopes. Because unfortunately, for Muslims, the West is Christian. Muslims do not know the extent to which the West has been de-Christianized. And the extent to which the West constitutes a core of de-Christianization of the world with the exportation to other countries of the so-called civilization it has produced.
As an Arab priest, if I do not see Soufanieh in this global way, I cannot understand Soufanieh. I do not seek to exaggerate its role. I see Soufanieh as a kind of a small sun that begins to grow in a universe where a lot of darkness has fallen. Soufanieh comes to bring us this light to help us see ourselves in God's perspective, and not at all in the world's perspective. And if, unfortunately, we continue to look stubbornly at everything from a worldly perspective, we will end up, sooner or later, losing the world and God that we have almost lost.
IN THE MIDST OF THE ARAB WORLD
The fact that this phenomenon is occurring in the middle of the Arab world, and in a Muslim majority environment, makes one really think. If it is occurring in a time when the Arab world is an object of disdain from the great powerful countries, unfairly treated -- even mistreated in the worst way -- by them, and I honestly say that in all conscience; if it is occurring in a time when the Christians, in minority and divided amongst themselves, feel even more reduced; in a time when, seeing that they have no future in the Arab world, many are tempted to emigrate and leave in large numbers; if in a time like that, the Lord wants to give us a sign, well, I myself find the action of the Lord extraordinary.
That reminds me of a gift that a friend gave me once, one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received in my life. This friend, a father of two young children, who had almost all his family in the United States, was also quite tempted to leave. But, with the phenomenon of Soufanieh, he took the time to think and pray. And he finally decided to stay in Syria. When he came to tell me his decision, I told him, "This is one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received in my life." His decision was motivated by this assertion: "I have no right to leave Damascus at a time when the Lord came to stay here for good." I found his reaction extraordinary. And very promising. Here is a man who really understood that with the events of Soufanieh, the Lord is telling us: "My children, I am here. Stay with Me. I am with you. It is not a time to leave. Two thousand years ago, I told My children: "Go and preach," now, to you also, I say: "Preach!". And if, as far as we can judge, the Lord has maintained the presence of a Christian minority in the Arab world against all odds, this is certainly for a mission. He entrusted us with this mission two thousand years ago. Unfortunately, we have let Him down. Now, I am sure that the Lord is saying to us: "My children, begin your mission."
But before beginning the mission of preaching to others, we have to preach to ourselves. And by doing so, we discover that we Christians of the Middle East suffer from great poverty. Not from spiritual poverty, because deep inside ourselves, we are naturally very rich. Immensely rich. But by our religious and human education, we are very poor. Very, very poor. We depend on ancient history, with very heavy consequences, for which we are paying now; and we also depend on a series of social, intellectual, political and scientific conditions, and an invasion of ideas and ways based on Western life, with the result that now, the young people, who are the future of the Church, seem to be completely out of touch with the Christian religion. We no longer have control over anyone except a small minority. Even more so now that the Church, in the Middle East, is crumbling and in a state of loss. Not only inside the Church, where we are losing youth in general, but also outside of it. Because a lot of people are leaving the country. This also is a source of suffering.
And unfortunately, the West does not realize sufficiently this very serious fact, or seeks to ignore it. The attrition of Christians from the Middle East, and especially from Palestine, is a fact. We hear about it from time to time, but not sufficiently. People pretend not to measure the extent of the exodus of the Christians, especially from Palestine under the Israeli oppression. An oppression that takes a thousand faces, a thousand forms, that is happening openly and publicly, and nobody is reacting. Even the Church is too silent in the face of such injustices. In this case, Palestinians emigrate, Christians far more than Muslims. And we understand why. Muslim Palestinians feel part of the Muslim majority who lives in the Middle East. It is normal that they feel strong, after all. They have a very dense population in Palestine and they are an overwhelming majority in all the Middle East.
Christians who, unfortunately, have not sufficiently counted on the Lord, who, as I have said, have counted too much on purely human elements, have finally realized that humanly speaking, they could no longer withstand. And many of them leave, even though they love their country. But there are limits to what a man can endure. There are limits to one's patience. There are limits to everything. Many leave against their will, but they leave. And the number of Christians is diminishing rapidly in Palestine.
In 1990, I met the Latin Patriarch Mgr Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem. He told me, "Indeed, the number of Christians is diminishing but we have not lost hope." He is a very courageous man. He is almost the only one who has the courage to speak frankly and publicly. With these facts, we understand why Arab Christians always view the future with a great deal anxiety, perhaps even of oppression. And that explains why, because of this very complex and difficult social and political context, some people - even a good number of them - have decided to leave. Unfortunately, many of them have already left. But, through Soufanieh, the Lord is telling us: "My children, I am here. Stay with Me."
AN INVITATION TO LOOK TO THE FUTURE
The Church that the Lord is addressing, especially the Church of the Middle East, through the Church of Damascus, is a Church that the Lord wants to look to the future. In all His messages, Jesus speaks about the future.
Indeed, He has hinted at past and present situations that displease Him. When He says, for example: Pray for the sinners who forgive in My name, and for those who deny My Mother. Or elsewhere: Tell My children that it is from them that I demand unity, and I do not want it from those who act as if they were working for unity. Or even: In he who looks towards Me, I shall paint My image in him. Woe to him who represents My image but has ransomed My blood. These three sentences explain a lot about the suffering that high-ranking and faithful clergymen, not the Church, have caused to the Lord, whether in the past or in the present.
But the Lord continually invites us to look beyond, to see what He plans to do. Not what we can do, but what He plans to do. And the verbs that He uses are in the future tense. Therefore, He invites us to look to the future while the Churches of the Middle East, unfortunately, are stuck in their past. Although they are being asked in a thousand ways to look to the future, they continue to stick to the past, believing that to drop the past means to lose the present and the future. These Churches are petrified with fear, a fear which finds explanations (but not justifications) in the past. Even more so in the present and the future.
Indeed, the Church is from the past. But it is not for the past. Besides, Jesus is not the God who came in the past and has remained in the past. Jesus is the God who will come. The God who holds the past, the present and the future in His hand. And the God who will always come. The Church was born from His side, on the cross. But to be willing to stay at that point, is not to go forth to the stage of the Resurrection and the Pentecost. Symbolically and theologically, the Church emerged from the wound in Jesus' side. This is very true. This is the ultimate love that the Lord could give us, to die on the cross. He had nothing else to give us. And it is through His death that the Church was founded. But to cling to this perspective, without being willing to overcome death, is to condemn ourselves to remain stuck, without ever attaining the Resurrection and the Pentecost. Such a Church is, sooner or later, doomed.
The Lord has come to help His Church save itself and, through it, to save mankind. The more the Churches cling to the past, the more they risk turning in on themselves and closing themselves off from others. Turning in on themselves: I am Syrian, I am a Byzantine, I am an Armenian, I am a Maronite. And I cling to the structure of my Church. I stick to its customs, to its clothing, to its liturgy, to its architecture. Even to the language and the hymns. In spite of the fact that people no longer understand the celebration of the Holy Mass. I cling to all that, giving myself the illusion that in this manner I remain close to the Lord.
Indeed, I have to keep what the Lord has given me through history. I have to respect Tradition. But to do what the Jews did with the Law and the Sabbath, to make them equal to God, and to go even beyond that, by saying, as some Pharisees, that God teaches the Law, is to put God under the Law. And this is absolutely a disastrous inconsistency for the Church.
Nobody does it consciously. But we live this in a personal or collective state of unawareness. And that will turn against the Church and against the people in the midst of which the Lord has placed us. The Church cannot remain turned in on itself or closed off from others. It must open. It must open at all costs, otherwise it will die.
FUTURE PLANS UNDER THE LORD'S CARE
What is very beautiful is that Jesus used the future tense, in some sentences of His messages, whether by entrusting the Christians with a future mission, or by taking care Himself of the mission that He is asking Christians to accomplish.
The Lord has said on several occasions, either directly or through the Holy Virgin: You will teach the generations. You, yourselves will teach: in the future. To generations: this is not only for a few years from now. To generations: therefore, there is a long future. This is long-term work. And when the Lord says: How beautiful is this place. I shall build My kingdom and My peace in it. How beautiful is this place: The house of Myrna and Nicolas is not so beautiful. And we -- the few people who are there -- have nothing so beautiful. But the Lord sees with the perspective of His divine science. This little something that He sees, this small seed, for Him, is very beautiful. Because it will be the beginning of a plan that is under His very care: I shall build... "Therefore, whether you respect yourselves or not, I am the One who is doing it."
The Lord truly seems to exert His full power: My Kingdom and My Peace. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of justice, a kingdom of love. Where is the justice? Where is the love? And the peace? My Kingdom and My Peace. Where is the peace? Now more than ever, the Middle East is far from peace. By our fault, by the fault of the powerful Western countries, by the presence of Israel. Now more than ever, the Middle East is far from peace. And nevertheless, this is the country where the Lord has come and where He has announced His Peace.
Jesus lived physically in the Middle East. May I parallel this new presence of the Lord represented by the Soufanieh phenomenon. Because, with the persistence of the Lord to proclaim: How beautiful is this place. I shall build My Kingdom and My peace in it, and with the message of the Holy Virgin saying: Jesus told Peter, You are the rock, and on it, I shall build My church. As for Me, I tell you now: You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY", when I hear Jesus and the Holy Virgin saying such things, I tell myself that, disregarding this little core of faithful praying at Soufanieh or elsewhere -- but related to Soufanieh --, there is certainly an expression of a Divine Will to build something strong and lasting; the expression of a Divine Will not to retreat before the human phenomena trying to eliminate the presence of Christians in the Middle East. The Lord cares about His Kingdom, He cares about His Peace, and He is coming to confirm it to us now. Of course, the Lord can act alone. He can do anything by Himself. But, the logic of the Incarnation is based on the fact that the Lord counts on human instruments. Instruments who have the necessary courage, adaptability, intelligence and humility.
The Lord counts on us. He counts on the community of Soufanieh and on the many communities which have evolved through Soufanieh. The whole world must pray for us, and pray for all the Christians of the Middle East, in order that we become truly the rock on which the Lord seems to be willing, again, to build His Kingdom and His peace. In order that we become, via our adaptability, our openness, our humility, our love, our persistence, our openness to our Muslim brothers, the obedient and efficient instruments of the Lord. To help Him to build a Kingdom of peace for everyone. For everyone, without exception.
And now, I will talk about the Lord's promise to Myrna: My peace in your heart will be a blessing for you and for all those who have cooperated with you. This is a promise in the future. For now, Jesus does not seem to be promising anything. For now, we have only to pray. To pray and fast. But later: My peace in your heart will be a blessing for you and for all those who have cooperated with you. This promise of the Lord cannot leave us indifferent. It must be the light that will help us to face all possible and imaginable difficulties, all the difficulties that we see and those that we do not know yet and that might fall on our heads. The important thing is to satisfy the Lord Himself. Therefore, He is saying that through the message of the Holy Virgin: Tell everyone to pray more because they need prayer to please the Father.
You will pray for us that we become truly obedient instruments in order to create something. To preach, you must have an audience. It is necessary that Christians be there, that Arab Christians be there. They must, in number, belief, love, openness, obedience and humility, be truly able, through their lives, to announce Jesus Christ. Not necessarily through the mission as we had considered in the past, through missionaries. But through our lives; if this is convincing, we can prepare the way for evangelization.
Then the Lord will tell us thereafter, and He will open the path for us for new missions that will allow us to bring Him closer to our Muslim brothers, to show them that He is kinder than He seems, and perhaps to help them to know Him. In fact, this is long-term project work.
ALL BROTHERS IN CHRIST
The Holy Virgin has asked us to pray for peace. Of course, anyone who loves can hardly avoid praying for peace. But on two occasions, the Holy Virgin has insisted.
The first time She asked for this very explicitly was on November 26, 1989. After having said: My children, Jesus told Peter, You are the rock, and on it, I shall build My Church. As for Me, I tell you now, You are the heart in which Jesus will build His UNICITY, the Holy Virgin added: I want you to devote your prayers to peace, from now until the commemoration of the Resurrection. This was the first time the Holy Virgin asked specifically: I want you to devote your prayers, as if She were saying: "Drop everything else and pray for peace." This was the first time She asked explicitly for prayers, and we wondered why. But a short while after, we saw the war in Lebanon degenerating into a fratricidal war among Maronites, as has never been seen before. Never. Neither in Lebanon nor elsewhere.
On a second occasion, the Holy Virgin requested prayers for peace. That was in Belgium, in Braaschaatt, at the church of the Sacred Heart, during Myrna's ecstasy on August 15, 1990. The Holy Virgin said this sole sentence: My children, pray for peace, and especially in the East, because you are all brothers in Christ. All brothers in Christ. As if to say to Belgians and Westerners: "You are brothers of your Arab brothers." Myrna was there, she is an Arab. Nicolas was there, he is an Arab. Father Boulos Fadel is an Arab, he was there. You are all brothers in Christ. Are all men brothers in Christ? All men are indeed brothers in Christ. Saint Paul said it also. Even before our baptism, we are brothers, because we were redeemed by the Blood of the Lord. A Muslim is for me a brother in Christ, even though he is a Muslim, because he is also called, in some way, to be redeemed by the Blood of the Lord and to enter into the brotherhood that Jesus has brought upon us.
Thus, whether I understand it or not, whether I like it or not, the Holy Virgin tells us: You are all brothers in Christ. Therefore, stop killing each other. Stop fighting each other, stop committing injustices. How can peace be accomplished if I pray but then act contrary to peace? Consequently, along with prayer, I must act such that peace be established. If I am in conflict with somebody and I pray for peace, I must start by reconciling with this person. And if I have committed an injustice against someone, I must correct this injustice, to be in peace with this person, and then with myself, and therefore with the Lord.
So if the Holy Virgin is inviting the whole world to pray for peace, and especially in the East, it is because there is something wrong. And we know that something is wrong. We know that the world is unfair. We know that the logic of the power in the world is a logic of violence, and not a logic of love. The logic of violence is not a logic of God. But what comes first nowadays is the logic of violence, of power. The strongest has consumed the weakest.
And the worst thing is that this is done in the name of the law, which is supposed to regulate the relationships between men, in order to have relationships of equality, justice, and law. The worst thing is that now, the great powerful countries brandish international law, and in the name of the international authorities who are supposed to protect the weakest people, they brandish international law to crush the poor people. Why? In the name of what? And who will tell these people and these powerful countries to stop acting against God? If the Church is incapable of doing that, who is going to say it?
It is sad that the Western world, which advocates so much violence, and which also advocates injustice in the name of the law, is considered -- in the eyes of our Muslim brothers -- to be a Christian world. There are so many things to review. I understand why Jesus or the Holy Virgin say to Myrna: Tell everyone to pray more because they need prayer to please the Father. If we do not pray, how shall we change?
And if we pray and mold a God to our own image, which will have nothing to do with Jesus, then we allow ourselves all eccentricities and injustices in the name of justice. Whether we like it or not, the Holy Virgin reminds us: My children, You are all brothers in Christ!
THE SOUFANIEH PHENOMENON SPREADING THROUGHOUT THE WORLD
The phenomenon of Soufanieh is a phenomenon that has spread. First of all in Damascus, at Soufanieh, then to other houses. In Damascus, we have seen a real change in the level of prayer, people's desire to pray, whether at Soufanieh or in their own houses. It is not rare to see family members who have grown accustomed to gathering and praying before the image of Our Lady of Soufanieh. Nor is it rare to see families who have established a special place in their house where they have put the cross and the image of the Holy Virgin, to pray together in the evening. That already existed before, but not as much. And not with the simplicity that we have seen arising from Soufanieh.
Thus the influence of Soufanieh has extended everywhere, especially in Aleppo, Syria. Since January 1988, oil oozed from an icon of Our Lady of Soufanieh in a first house in Aleppo, followed by another one, which inspired prayer, there as well as here. Again, we are seeing a real change. And we know that in many places in the world, the image of Our Lady of Soufanieh has oozed oil. In Beirut, Lebanon, this inspired a movement of prayer for a while, but it did not last.
In Bethlehem (Palestine), oil oozed for a full month in 1986, which inspired people from different communities, be they Christians or Muslims, to gather and to pray before the icon. We have a written testimony, signed by two priests, one Greek Catholic and the other Greek Orthodox, plus an attorney and his brother. We consider this testimony to be the first document of unity of the Church caused by Soufanieh, since it was signed jointly by two priests, an Orthodox and a Catholic. And it related the phenomenon of the oil oozing from the image of Our Lady of Soufanieh in Bethlehem, in a writing style reminiscent of the style of Saint Paul and the early Christians. It is said in this document that for one month, oil oozed and that people, Christians and Muslims, came to pray. After that, the phenomenon of Bethlehem ceased.
Currently, the phenomenon is occurring in Iraq. It is the former Syrian Orthodox vicar of Damascus who is now the Bishop of Mosul (Iraq), Mgr Isaac Saka, who told me this on June 8, 1991, during his visit to Damascus. He agreed to write his testimony on the letterhead of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, dated June 10, 1991. In this testimony, he said that since early January 1991, oil oozed from an image of Our Lady of Soufanieh in a house in Mosul. Imagine: a few days before the Gulf War, the Lord gave this sign!... And His children, Christians and Muslims, have been coming to pray, since then and until now, in a very poor house. What is more, the same bishop also says that in that house, there is a young man 18 years old, who from time to time, exudes oil from his body. He is also subject to phenomenons similar -- according to the bishop -- to those of Myrna. The bishop recognizes, however, that although he has visited this house two or three times to pray with the crowd, he does not know more than this for the moment. But he adds, "I will try, when I return to Mosul, to get more information to transmit to you, to complete your file." What is the Lord preparing in Iraq? What is certain is that He has opened another source of oil there, which has provoked a reaction of prayer. That is the most important thing.
IT'S YOUR HEART THAT MATTERS MOST
On November 26, 1987, after having said to Myrna: Go and preach to the whole world and tell them without fear to work for unity, Jesus added: Man is not condemned for the fruit of his hands, but for the fruit of his heart. I find this sentence truly extraordinary. Nevertheless, it is of amazing simplicity and transparency. We have a tendency to judge others and ourselves according to our material standards. Do you have money? People say that you are worth what you have in a bank account or in your pockets. Are you strong, with muscles? Can you fight a strong man? If you are able to beat him, you are the best. Do you have a good job? That is good, you are of great worth! It is always based on what we have, instead of what we are. And nevertheless, the difference between what we have and what we are is like night and day. In the world, men are always judged for what they have, instead of what they are. But unfortunately, in today's world, this type of judgement is increasing.
But here, Jesus, immediately after having said to Myrna: Go and preach to the whole world and tell them without fear to work for unity, continued saying simply: Man is not condemned for the fruit of his hands,as if He were saying: "Do no fear if you do not seem to get results. You may be in charge of a great mission, you might not succeed, humanly speaking, but if you are putting all your heart into it, for Me, your heart is what matters most." Your heart is what matters most.
And this explains why the Lord prefers to start with the very humble ones, who are not valued by others, who do not value themselves and who consider themselves incapable of doing anything. A bit like what Father Chevrier used to say: "You know nothing, you have nothing, you are worth nothing, come to me!" And that reminds me also of what the Venerable Mary of Jesus Crucified -- an extraordinary figure -- used to say about herself. She was a Palestinian nun who died in 1878, and whose life has been a series of extraordinary phenomena. She -- who was absolutely illiterate -- was subject to ecstasies during which she used to express poems in French, a language she had never learned. And in very good French as if she were one of the great French poets. But she was totally self-effacing. She was referred to as "the little nobody," or "the little Arab." Therefore, it is always the "little nobody" that matters for the Lord, if this "little nobody" recognizes himself as such before the Almighty God. That is what Jesus seems to say to Myrna: "Do no fear if you do not seem to get results. It is your heart that matters most."
This is an immense consolation for any believer! How many people have worked all their life and, after years of hard work, have seen their work crumble! This was the case of Father Chevrier. He aimed to create a group of priests who would take care of the poor, and the most needy among the poor: young children. He had just succeeded in convincing four other priests to work with him, and just before his death, the four priests let him down! Two completely left him, the third one was hesitant, the fourth one seemed to lack conviction. Father Chevrier saw almost all of his work crumbling. And he abandoned himself to the Lord. And it is only after his death that everything started up again.
That brings us back to a sentence said by Jesus: "[...] unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Well, I hope that through Soufanieh, there will be many grains of wheat, there will be a lot of Arab grains convinced of the Incarnation of the Lord, convinced of their own incarnation in the Arab society formed of a Muslim majority.
I hope that these numerous grains of wheat will love God and their Muslim brothers sufficiently, and all their Christian brothers -- no matter which community or church or confession they belong to; that they will love them all in such a way that He will truly be able to transform them and others, so that in the Middle East, we will grow not only a few stalks but infinite fields of wheat, which will praise the Lord and sing for peace, for the glory and the love of Jesus!
AN EXCEPTIONAL MANIFESTATION OF GOD
Soufanieh is thus a manifestation of God like we have never seen before in the Middle East since the Incarnation. An exceptional manifestation. As much as I can recall the history of the Church, I don't think that a similar phenomenon happened throughout the entire history of the Middle East. I don't think that we have yet experienced a phenomenon as perceptible, as persistent, as diversified, as significant (with the stigmata, the ecstasies and the messages) as Soufanieh.
Anyway, at the end of the 20th century, if the Lord is so present, so persistently present within a society of Muslim majority, within a society dragged down by science, atheism, immorality, and the need for God, it indicates something unique in the history of the Church of the Middle East!
At Soufanieh, all is love. All the messages of Soufanieh are messages of love, messages of confidence, of hope. The only time the Lord seemed to give us a warning (except for the reproaches that He addressed to us) is when He told us: I was crucified out of love for you, and I want you to carry and bear your cross for Me, willingly, with love and patience, and (I want you) to await My arrival. This is the only sentence, in all the splendid messages of Soufanieh, where He mentions an arrival that might constitute a sort of threat. And yet, I am not sure.
On the other hand, the messages of Soufanieh call us to a new beginning: Go and preach to the whole world... Myrna scarcely returned back to Damascus: Go and preach... Why are you afraid? I am with you. Thirteen times exactly, the Holy Virgin and Jesus repeated: Do not fear! At least ten times, the Holy Virgin and Jesus said explicitly: We are with you all. And in the last sentence of Her last message, the Holy Virgin asserted: Because We are with you and with everyone who wishes the Feast (of Easter) to be One. We: We are with you. No need, then, to discuss. Go. I am with you.
This is exactly the mission given by Jesus to the Apostles. This is therefore a new beginning for Christianity in the Middle East, but a new beginning made by the Lord, not by us. Jesus seems to tell us kindly: "My friends, until now, you have sufficiently disfigured Me. So let Me work now. You are there, you are small. I have kept you for the new beginning. If you have remained, it is certainly because you have made efforts, but it is especially because of Me."
Many historians say that it is a miracle that there are still some Christians in the Middle East. And if our presence is truly a miracle, the miracle is the work of God. If our presence is truly a miracle, it seems, with reference to Soufanieh, that this miracle is preparing a greater one, the miracle of a new beginning dawn for Christianity, to create what Jesus called, My Kingdom and My peace. Because peace rests only on justice, we hope that it will also be a kingdom of total justice for the whole world, where all the children of God will live as children of God, in peace and in love.
Therefore, when explaining Soufanieh, it is useless to count on something or someone. We can sometimes count on science, money, power, or even men, but to a limited extent. Jesus is the only one that can be counted upon without limit. Jesus is the only one. And because He honored us with the presence of His mother in a very strong and persistent way, we must hold tightly the hand of the Holy Virgin, because through Her, we are sure to come to Jesus. We are sure to come to Jesus.
That is why Jesus said, in one of the most beautiful and tender messages: She is My Mother from whom I was born. He who honors Her honors Me. He who denies Her denies Me. And he who asks something from Her obtains because She is My Mother. In other words, "Do not search for Jesus without His Mother." It is therefore a serious call addressed to the Church to liberate itself from all that is ungodly. An insistent call, through the messages of Soufanieh. It is a serious call from the Lord to His Church.
And when I say "His Church," I mean all of His Churches. The small Churches are also His Churches. He wants to re-affirm His One Church. It is clearly a time for the Church to count solely on the Lord, by adopting the prayer that Jesus taught to Myrna, and through Myrna, I believe, to all of us: Beloved Jesus, Grant that I rest in You. The Church is so tired, so torn apart, lost so much blood in fighting, that I think, it can no longer find peace, strength or vitality in any other way than in Jesus, and in Jesus alone.
If all the priests, nuns, bishops, patriarchs, all the Christians of the Middle East, and all men of goodwill, adopted this prayer taught by Jesus to Myrna: Beloved Jesus, Grant that I rest in You above all things, an extraordinary wind of liberation would come about, not only in the Middle East, but in all hearts, leading to unity.
THE LOVE I HAVE FOR THE CHURCH
The love I have for the Church is the same love that I have for Jesus
Himself. The Church is my mother. Without It, I would not have known Jesus,
I would not have known Mary, and therefore, I would not have known myself. I would not have known myself the way God sees me. The Holy Virgin
is my mother who has given me God. And the Church -- my mother -- has given me to God. Particularly through the priesthood. It has given me to God
in a very special way through the priesthood. And It has given me God in a very special way, so that I can give Him now to others. Otherwise, no one
would call me "Father" ("Abouna" in Arabic), the father of all. Therefore, this is like a triangle: the Church has given me God, the Church has given me to
God, and the Church allows me to give God to others. It is a complete triangle that completes itself in love. But love does not exclude lucidity. On the
contrary. When we truly love, we should be lucid. Otherwise, it is a love that blinds us and that ends up destroying the one who loves.
Even if the Church is diminished, even if It is two thousand years old,
even if It is said to be "old", even if It makes me suffer, It still is
my mother. And I
love It because God loves It. I love It because God loves me in It. I love It because It has taught me God and It has taught me how to love Him.
Without It, I would be nothing. But sometimes I want It to be my mother more than It wants to be. Not only for me. For all of Its children. The rich and
the poor. The intelligent and the weak. The educated and the uneducated. I would want It to be for everyone, without divisions. But that is not always
the case. That does not prevent me from loving It, and because I love It, I tell it so.
This causes me suffering, this causes It suffering, but it is a suffering
of love. It is a love that can sometimes reach a degree of anger that hurts
hurts others, but it is still always love. And I cannot lie to myself by engaging in flattery or silence wherein I feel that I am lacking in love for my mother,
and therefore for the Lord.
It is a mother who has lost some of her children throughout the history.
It is a mother who has paid from her blood, often, to prevent her children
being diminished, whether physically, socially, or spiritually. It is also a mother who has sometimes compromised herself for different human causes, and
who has consequently committed the error of losing some of her children. Still, It is my mother. I love It and I want to tell It that. So that It will not lose
out again by depending only on human beings, so It will not lose other children as It did in the past.
And I would also like It to tell me that It loves me, because I am Its
child, and to have the courage to tell me when It sees me going off course.
which is not based on honesty and sincerity is not love. Even though we search for it in the world, the world is strangely organized. In the world, we
cannot find honesty. But if honesty is lost, where can we find it, if not in the Church? Therefore, since I want to tell the truth to my mother, in the name of
the love I have for her, and in the name of the love that I have for the Lord, I would also like my mother to tell me the truth. So that all of us together will
be in truth. And we will be in truth, by doing the work of God.
The Church is a Church of faithfulness, which through two thousand years
of constancy, suffering, and even persecution, has succeeded in safeguarding
the foundation on which the Lord, now, will be based, in spite of all the pettiness, the weaknesses, the divisions, and the crumbling of this foundation.
This foundation, on which the Lord will rest in order to rebuild His Kingdom. It is His promise. And for me, this promise is a greater reason to love
Jesus and my mother. Because my mother has given me the chance to live the grace of Soufanieh, which is a grace of the presence of the Lord. She has
helped me to relive this new beginning, to relive it with hope. I am not sure that I will live long enough to see even a fragment of it accomplished. But I
have been able to live it with hope and I wish to see it, from the hereafter, accomplished slowly, with my other brothers in Christ here on Earth.
In my country, in Lebanon, in Palestine, in Iraq, and everywhere else
in the world, in the Middle East and then in the whole world. It is this
into which the Lord will breath His spirit again, this foundation to which He has given back His mother with such force, with such a generosity, with such
tenderness, that we are truly amazed; and, in our wish to thank the Lord adequately, we feel so completely unequal to what He deserves.
I would like my Church, which is my mother, to be in truth and love,
so that it will not take too much time to discover in Soufanieh the hand
open heart that the Lord is holding out to us. When He showed His heart to the French Sister Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, saying to her: "do you see
this Heart which has loved the world so much?" the image of His heart, a wide-open burning heart. I believe that in Soufanieh, there is more than the
image. The Lord does not stop saying: "I love you." And He does not stop giving us signs. He has appeared several times to Sister Marguerite-Marie
Alacoque, but she was alone. She had the courage to recount what she saw, and people believed her. At first, some people did not believe her, but
slowly, the message spread. Now, at Soufanieh, the Lord has such love, such tenderness, such persistence that He seems to want to say it to everyone.
I would like that the Church, which is my mother, not to refuse to open its eyes to see the hand and the open heart that the Lord is holding out to us.
And to see into this open heart on the cross, the Heart of the risen Christ, who will breath His Spirit again into His Church, as He did in the days of the
Apostles. And this would be the beginning, I would say, of a new Incarnation of the Lord.
What saddens me is to see, in this Church which is my mother, that there
are men who are capable (and I myself am among them) of aborting the work
of God. This fear of a human power capable of aborting the work of God has haunted me for some time. The day I was sure that at Soufanieh, the Lord
was the one who had been working, and knowing the history of the Church, knowing the immense respect that God has for men, I truly feared that the
Church would take measures that might literally ruin this work of God at Soufanieh. Luckily, the Lord has spared us this disgrace. He has spared us this
human stupidity. He has allowed the authorities to act so slowly that it saddens me, but He has not allowed them to act aggressively enough to destroy
I continue to pray for the leaders of the Church. In order for them
to know that above them, there is Jesus. In order for them to know that
science, there is the Lord. In order for them to know that above all their knowledge, there are things that the Holy Virgin has said, that we do not
understand but that the Lord understands. And in order for them to know that the plan of God is not what they perceive, but what God perceives. And
that the servants of God should conform to the Lord's idea of them, not to their idea of themselves, or to their idea of the Lord. I pray for all of them.
And I truly hope that the Lord will allow us, along with those who have
served Him at Soufanieh, and with those who thought they were serving Him
fighting against Soufanieh, I hope the Lord will hasten the day when we can thank Him together, here on Earth as well as in the hereafter, for this
manifestation in His Church, in the Arab world, in the current world, for the resurrection of His love in us and in each man. May He especially help us
not to be like the Pharisees and the notables of Jerusalem.
And when we see a world so tense, so disorganized, forced to live absolutely
inextricable situations, submissive to the power of money and to other
so-called "occult" powers, when, faced with such a world, we listen to the messages of Soufanieh, we see the love of the Lord - so great, so persistent-,
that we can only have total faith in God. To have faith in the Lord, and as said in the Scriptures, to hope against all hopes. But to hope in the Joy and
Love that will come to meet us, and that wants to move towards us, to spread throughout the world, in all hearts, to prepare for us a new land.
It is time to ask the Lord to send us His Holy Spirit to rebuild the
world. We all must pray for this. We must welcome this visit of the Lord
to Medjugorje, to Kibeho in Rwanda, and throughout the world. A visit through which He is telling us that He wants to remake the world, by His own
initiative. Because He alone is capable of doing it. "Lord, increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5). The Apostles truly said that. Today, I tell You, on behalf of all
my brothers, "I do believe; help my unbelief!" (cf. Mark 9:24).