When Leila Abdallah lost her three children, the world wept with her … now she wants the world to forgive with her and is using her invitation to the Vatican by Pope Francis to help share her message.
Leila and husband Danny will be guest speakers at this month’s 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome, sharing their story of forgiveness at the largest gathering of Catholic families on the planet.
Inspired by their incredible faith, the couple will talk about forgiveness being the way to holiness which will be followed by the closing Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at St Peter’s Square.
The Sydney couple touched hearts around the world following their incredible forgiveness for the driver who killed their three children Antony, Angelina and Sienna, and their niece Veronique Sakr at Oatlands in February 2020.
With very poor English and a loathing for public speaking prior to the accident, Leila said it can only be God’s will that will see her spreading His message on the world stage.
Travelling with children, Liana, 12, Alex, 7, Michael, 6, and baby Selina, the trip will be bittersweet, concluding on what would have been Antony’s 16th birthday.
However, the former Mother of the Year said God had answered her prayers giving her an international platform to share their message and their i4Give Foundation.
“Being invited to talk at the Vatican in front of Pope Francis and people around the word really is unbelievable and gives us the opportunity to say what the world needs to hear,” she said.
“Sharing our story has helped me a lot in my grieving process, when people asked ‘Leila, how did you get through it’ I answer forgiveness and that’s what I want to share with the world.
“I accept that my suffering is what is needed to bring people closer to God.
“Words cannot explain how I feel about speaking at the World Meeting of Families, it is so surreal.
“God speaks through all of us and never more loudly than about forgiveness.
“It is our opportunity to share our story with the Vatican, the Pope and the rest of the world how forgiveness has helped us keep going.”
The World Meeting of Families seeks to highlight family love as a vocation and celebrate its sanctity, beauty and vitality.
Established by Pope St John Paul II in 1994, it is held every three years in different locations around the world, with the most recent in Dublin, Ireland, in 2018. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance at this year’s conference is limited to just 2000 families, with Pope Francis appealing to dioceses all over the world to take part in their own communities.
The Archdiocese of Sydney will join the festivities between June 24 and 26, beginning in parishes on Friday with the Feast of the Sacred Heart, followed by a Family Pilgrimage Day on Saturday, giving participants the opportunity to visit and venerate the relics of saints at eight Sydney sites including a relic of St Pope John Paul II at St Joachim Church, Lidcombe; a relic of St Mary of the Cross at Our Lady of Lourdes, Earlwood and a relic of St Anne at The Shrine of St Anne at Bondi.
The three-day festivities will culminate with a Mass and special blessing of families by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at St Mary’s Cathedral at 10.30am followed by a Festival of Families’ featuring food, coffee, music, stalls and activities for children.
Leading the Australian contingent, Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, said the international gathering was a wonderful opportunity for us all to renew our commitment to family ministry in solidarity with diocesan communities around the world.
He said family life embodies the spirit of mercy and compassion, and through the example of families such as the Abdallahs, we can all understand forgiveness is not optional but a fundamental part of life, especially when facing tragedy and crisis.
“In every family it is the love and hope of Christ who dwells within, that draws us together to work out our differences, to celebrate together and care for one another, to help us overcome adversity and to guide us and give us vision for our future alone and together,” he said.
“I selected Danny and Leila Abdallah as one of six couples representing Australian Catholics at the World Meeting of Families as their story and their journey following the tragic death of three of their children in 2020 has had a revolutionary impact, reviving the value of forgiveness in family life in Australian society.
“Taking part in the World Meeting of Families will – I hope – provide the Abdallah’s with a chance to speak about their journey and their i4Give Day initiative on a global stage.
“And the trip will bring them a step closer to an opportunity to meet with the Holy Father.”
Debbie Cramsie is a writer and commentator for the Catholic Weekly.
By Debbie Cramsie. Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.