Each night I read a bit from the Gospels to my young sons. One thing that strikes me is how Jesus’ preaching was often met with astonishment by people.
What came from his mouth was utterly unexpected and cut people to the quick. And he, also, was at times amazed by people’s faith after hearing them.
This country has seen a similar moment whenever Leila Abdallah faced media cameras in the week she lost three of her children in a shocking and confusing tragedy.
First, the news broke of an accident in Sydney claiming four children’s lives and injuring three others from one extended family. That was bad enough. Then came the details like a second punch. They had been walking along the road near the Abdallah home to get ice creams after a hot day.
And their parents were among the first on the scene.
“Stay together, you guys should be OK,” Danny Abdallah had said to his children and their second cousins. I say that to my five kids too. Good parents are supposed to.
While we never forget that they could be hurt, we cannot smother our children with our fear.
We must learn to let them go, and so we do, a little at a time until they are grown and the cycle begins again with their own children. But that isn’t what happened here. An out-of-control car left the road and the carefree group was shattered forever.
Like you, I’ve studied the Abdallah family photo. Was it taken at the baptism of their youngest? Mum and dad are beaming, older siblings gathered close to make sure everyone is in the shot. They look nice. Veronique Sakr’s school photo is so cute.
We have photos just like those.
It was surprising to see Danny Abdallah, red-eyed but calm and dignified, speaking to reporters the next morning, telling of his love for 13-year-old Antony and his younger sisters Angelina and Sienna, describing them, pleading with drivers to be safe on the road.
Last Monday, photographers captured his wife at the growing memorial of flowers, teddies and balloons along the broken fence on Bettington road. She sobbed, kneeling on the ground where she had seen her slain children.
Then she spoke, and with quiet dignity and incredible composure, said she knew her children were in heaven but that she felt that she was in Good Friday and “walking the Stations of the Cross”.
Fingering a wooden rosary, she spoke of forgiveness towards the driver and the pointlessness of striving for material things in life over the things of heaven.
“I asked [God] to take everything away from me, but my kids….but I know nothing happens unless God wants it to happen…this is God’s will.”
Where does this come from, and do I have faith like this? I am so in awe and so grateful for what Leila has given us last week. Somehow, I have been deeply touched. I have been changed. Have you?
Should the cameras have even been rolling and her reactions broadcast? I really don’t know.
But without knowing the horrific way it would be drawn from her, this mother’s faith and love were poured out for all to see and hear and be touched by.
This is Job in our day, blessing the name of the Lord as everything he loved was taken away. This is Christ, accepting his ultimate suffering as His loving Father’s will.
Certainly, this is also a mother speaking out of raw shock and grief after a horrific blow.
But it is extraordinary that Leila’s first broadcasted responses were to speak lovingly of Jesus Christ and the things of God, to preach the power of faith and prayer and to invite others to pray for their own souls.
Where we might expect a lashing out in recrimination, bitterness or outrage – so common today – as a first reaction from both parents we were shaken by a powerful testimony of faith and love.
No homily, program or faith resource could touch people in the same way this young mother’s witness has done, sealed in authenticity by her fortitude under a blow of unspeakable suffering.
As astonishing and heartbreakingly beautiful her message of hope and love has been, it is terrible that it has arisen from such a tragic loss of life.
Leila spoke of having prayed all her life from a young age, and this must be true. She has come to this moment after a lifetime of prayer and service, robustly supported by her Maronite Catholic community of faith, the same community that has rallied so beautifully around the grieving families.
Within 24 hours of the disaster, hundreds of people packed St Michael’s church in Belfield to overflowing to pray for them alongside the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux and her parents Sts Louis and Zélie Martin.
The Martin parents held four of their children as they died or shortly after, their only sons as babies and Hélène at five-and-a-half years old. I believe God’s Providence was evident in the timing of the presence of their relics in Sydney.
These saintly parents in heaven understand what these shattered parents on earth will need the most, and when, as they face the coming days and years.
Dear Saints Louis and Zélie, pray for them!