A site of immense tragedy was transformed into a memorial of faith and love, as the memorial garden for the Abdallah and Sakr children was blessed and opened on Bettington Road, Oatlands, on 3 Frbeuary.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and NSW Premier Chris Minns were among the distinguished guests who joined Danny and Leila Abdallah, Bridget Sakr and Craig Mackenzie, their extended family and friends, for the blessing of the memorial to Antony, Angelina, Sienna and Veronique.
The children were tragically killed on 1 February 2020, while they were on their way to get ice cream.
The blessing ceremony was presided over by Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, who was joined by Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers for the roadside liturgy.
The service included Scripture readings and prayers, a reflection from Bishop Tarabay and a mix of contemporary Christian songs enjoyed by the children and traditional Maronite hymns.
White doves and balloons were set free into the clear Sydney summer sky, and dozens of white roses were laid at the memorial by family and friends.
Following the blessing and opening, each of the families had an opportunity to speak to those present, offering thoughts and reflections on the four years since the tragic deaths.
In addition to thanking the attendees and their friends, families and supporters, Danny, Leila and Bridget spoke of their hopes for the memorial.
They were united in the hope that the memorial would spur the whole community to remember the transformation faith makes possible.
“I always envisioned that someone carrying their pain and suffering would come here and reflect and remind themselves, ‘If these families can turn their suffering into purpose, then I can too,’” Danny said.
Leila told those gathered that God had transformed the place, “from a place of death to a place of life … from a place of grief to a memorial garden of hope … from a crash scene to a sea of flowers.”
She hoped that those who visited or drove past the site would remember that God can transform their lives as well.
“He turns your pain and agony, your darkness, your sadness, brokenness into holiness, strength, hope and forgiveness and turns it into his greater good,” she said.
Bridget said that the blessing of the memorial garden had turned a site filled with darkness into a place that would bring more light into the world.
“Darkness and light are mysteriously interwoven in the Christian mysteries. This place represents a transformation of tragedy and immense pain to a place of comfort, consolation, forgiveness, providing a beacon of hope to others who experience similar suffering,” she said.
The parents also paid tribute to the survivors of that night—Liana Abdallah, Charbel and Mabelle Kassas—saying it was a sign of God’s mercy and consolation to the families that they were spared.
Also acknowledged were the siblings Alex, Michael, Selina, Michelle and Rafqa, the siblings who were not there on that fateful night and who were sometimes called the “forgotten grievers,” but whose lives too had been forever changed by what happened.
Alex, aged nine, took to the podium to describe his memories of the night. Five-years-old at the time of the tragedy, he spoke poignantly for the first time publicly about how he hid in the car after arriving at the scene to see his sister lying on the ground.
The politicians in attendance praised the Abdallah and Sakr families and the way their witness has inspired the community.
“They are remarkable Australians who have not only risen from the deepest grief; they’ve lifted us all higher in that process,” the prime minister said.
NSW Premier Chris Minns told the crowd that, “Our hearts broke as we learned of the tragedy, and we mourned with you.”
“Many of us hugged our kids a little tighter that night. Danny’s since spoken of what he says is ‘the heavy cross we have to carry and how forgiveness got us through the valley of grief,’” Minns said.
“Not many of us could have comprehended the weight of that cross or even the depth of the valley but every Australian’s been inspired by that remarkable humanity that comes with forgiveness.”
Concluding the event and capturing the spirit of the afternoon was former prime minister and friend of the Abdallah and Sakr families, Scott Morrison.
Morrison said that the garden was not just a memorial to the children, but “a memorial to so much more.”
He reflected on Jesus’ words in Mt 17:20-21 that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.
“The mountain that was moved from this place, the mountain of grief, the mountain of tragedy, the mountain of tears, the mount of doubt and questions and anxiety and the mountain of fear, through their faith they found the way to find forgiveness and cast that mountain into the sea and in its place comes joy,” Morrison said.
To rousing applause and audible cries of “Amen,” he went on to say that Danny, Leila and Bridget “will be the first to tell you that the only way that they could have ever found that forgiveness was through their faith in Jesus Christ; it was Jesus who empowered them to do it.”