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Chapter 8
Interviews with Hierarchy
in Damascus
AVING BEEN INVITED by Nicolas and Myrna to
be a guest at their house, I sent word ahead that while I
was there I would like to meet with both Orthodox and
Catholic bishops. My purpose was to discover if the attitude of Church
leadership was positive as regards the reported supernatural events of
Soufanieh. If the Church, either the family of the Orthodox or
Catholics, were negative toward Soufanieh there would be neither the
need nor desire to write this book.
On my first full day at Soufanieh I was accompanied by a 25-year-
old young man from Germany, Tobias Beutgen. We were able to walk to
the area of the Chapel of Ananias near Soufanieh. It helped me realize
how close Soufanieh was to the place of the baptism of St. Paul the
Apostle who wrote so much of the New Testament. He changed the
world with his famous three missionary journeys in the known world at
that time, 2000 years ago.
That same day, Myrna also took me to the upper terrace of their
home. There she showed me the eucalyptus tree by a river, easily visible
across the street, where the Virgin Mary came to her on the terrace. The
Blessed Virgin touched Myrna’s hands with the crucifix of the Virgin’s
rosary. Then oil immediately came abundantly from Myrna’s hands,
overflowing onto the concrete floor (during her last apparition). It was
later realized that the oil on the concrete floor formed the suffering face
of Jesus Christ.
The Blessed Virgin Mother appeared first as a big ball of rainbow
color light on the branch of the tree. The ball opened and the Virgin
Mary appeared in a great halo of light and walked on a stream of light
toward Myrna who was on the terrace, leaving behind her a great ray of
light. Myrna was on her knees before seeing the Virgin Mary because it
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was very cold and Myrna was very scared in the beginning. The Virgin
Mary walked toward her, passing through or penetrating right through
the iron fence of the terrace in order to come to Myrna.
On September 13, 2001, beginning about 10:30 a.m., I had a long
interview with Orthodox Archbishop, Dionysius Behnam Jajjawi of
Hasakh, Syria, who had been to see Pope John Paul II several times. The
archbishop came to the Soufanieh house so that I could interview him
right at the center of the Soufanieh community.
He explained to me how he had followed the events of Soufanieh
from the beginning. It was obvious he had meditated on the messages
thoroughly for he retained details, it seemed, almost perfectly. It was
obvious that his faith in Soufanieh was very strong and that he sensed
heaven’s renewed call for unity in our time.
Highlights of that interview follow:
“It was November 27, 1982, when the oil first came. It was Decem-
ber 15, 1982, that the Virgin Mary appeared. Myrna says the Lady of
Soufanieh is Our Lady of Kazan by its similarity.”
I asked: How do you know the reports of Soufanieh are true?”
He replied: “From the oil I’ve seen come from the small Icon and
from the wounds in Myrna or the stigmata I have witnessed. We believe
Jesus Christ has suffered and he has passed the via dolorosa and Jesus
completed his mission by his affliction on the Cross and His Resur-
rection.” The sorrowful way for Jesus in his Mystical Body today, is obvi-
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ously the division among Christians.
I found it interesting to have this very open and friendly Orthodox
archbishop refer to the Stigmata as one of the reasons he believes in
Soufanieh. I once heard another Orthodox archbishop in the United
States say that stigmatists have not been known in the Orthodox tradi-
tion. “We are in awe, we are in wonder when we hear of such but it has
not been known that there have been stigmatists among Orthodox.” The
American archbishop attributed this to the spirituality of the Orthodox
which emphasizes the risen Jesus Christ rather than the suffering Christ.
We consider the family that heaven has chosen for the Soufanieh
events with great interest. Obviously heaven’s design was that in this way
the importance of Christian unity could be more effectively communi-
cated. Myrna is Catholic of the Greek Melkite rite. Nicolas, her hus-
band, is Orthodox. Because of the respect and importance of the father
as head of the family, the Orthodox Church looks upon the Nazzours as
an Orthodox family. In the message for Church unity, it is important
that the Feast of Easter, which celebrates the risen Jesus Christ, should
be celebrated by all Christians at the same time. It is important that
Orthodox and Catholics both come to an agreement to celebrate Easter
at the same time—and then it is believed the rest will follow (i.e.,
Catholics and Orthodox Christians). It is the most important Christian
Feast and in early Christianity was the only Feast celebrated with each
Sunday of the week seen as a little Easter.
In the Nazzour family we see then both Christ Crucified and Christ
Risen. Heaven is truly working for unity between East and West. It is
being done in the context of marriage and the family.
“Why are the events of Soufanieh happening?” I asked the arch-
bishop.
Response: “Mainly to prove to people by these holy happenings
what they are to do and to live. On March 24, 1983, the Virgin Mary
said: “I tell you, pray, and pray again . . . Pray for the inhabitants of earth
and heaven.”
It was during this fifth apparition on Thursday, March 24, 1983,
9:30 p.m., that the Virgin said also: “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.”
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In pointing to this particular message, it is obvious that Archbishop
Jajjawi was taken up with heaven’s call for unity in the Church, that
Christ’s Church be One Church. Jesus built One Church. Men are not
to build other churches. The Church Jesus founded was to be established
throughout the world. Different kinds of churches with conflicting doc-
trines were not to be build by men.
The Mother of God is calling people to the Church of her Son for
the forgiveness of sin. Mary is not a priest. She is not able to say, “Your
sins are forgiven.” But Jesus, her divine Son incarnate, has said it. He has
given that power to ordained priests. This power to forgive sins exists
among both the Orthodox and Catholic family.
The Syriac Orthodox Archbishop continued to answer my question
of “why this is happening” by saying:
“On Ascension Day, Mary 28, 1987, Jesus said: ‘Love each person
and pray with faith.’
“On Monday, February 21, 1983, Mary said, ‘I want you to keep my
word in your mind always. My Lord will save you. Jesus will enlighten
you, the Holy Spirit is my life, for that I am not afraid.’”
The archbishop’s memory and sharpness, plus his excellent rendi-
tion in English, was remarkable. He was quoting from the fourth ap-
parition of February 21, 1983, 9:30—[thus from the third message as
Myrna had run away in panic the first time the Virgin Mary appeared
and so she received no message then]—when Mary said, “My children,
let it be said between us, I have come back here. Do not insult the
haughty who are devoid of humility. The humble person craves other
people’s remarks to correct his shortcomings, while the corrupt and
haughty neglects, rebels, becomes hostile. Forgiveness is the best thing.
He who pretends to be pure and loving before people, is impure before
God. I would like to request something from you, 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, THIS IS WHY I FEAR NOTHING. . . .
The Orthodox archbishop was intent on pointing out, in response
to my question why Soufanieh was happening—that LOVE IS MOST
IMPORTANT.
He quoted from the first message of Saturday,
December 18, 1982, 11:37 p.m.: “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.”
The archbishop was emphatic that “love is most important.” It
appears Mary is asking that Christian homes become shrines of love,
families of love and unity. When there are millions of such Christian
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families, the unity of the Church will come. Mary has been coming into
homes through the Icon of Soufanieh and in hundreds of cases through-
out the world the Soufanieh icon has exuded oil.
The Archbishop then quoted for me the message of 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. I want you to devote your prayers to
peace, from now until the commemoration of the Resurrection.”
This Syriac archbishop knew he was being interviewed by a Roman
Catholic priest. I found it most interesting then that he made the point
to quote this text relative to Peter, the first pope. From his first words to
me he had made clear that he had already met with Pope John Paul II
more than once. It appeared the Archbishop was impressed that the
desire, even demand for unity of all Christians, would eventually come
from the baptized people of faith. Leaders of the various Christian com-
munities, it seems, too often are reluctant to unite as Christ would have
it.
Next, he quoted for me the message from Jesus Christ, given on
Saturday, April 18, 1987 (Holy Saturday), “I have given you a sign to
glorify me. Continue along this path and I am with you. For if you do
not. . . .”
I asked him what the word “Soufanieh” meant. He mentioned that
some historians say that men who believed in the monastic life once
lived in the area and wore wool of sheep and the word has that conno-
tation, “gathering of the sheep.” When I told Myrna, she replied that she
had heard it too.
The Archbishop then told me that in the future the Greek Melkite
Catholics will be celebrating the Feast of Easter at the same time as the
Orthodox. He concluded his detailed answer to my question of why all
this is happening at Soufanieh with: “All these appearances have happened
to make people understand that we must come to unity.”
I then indicated to the Archbishop that I thought the people would
gladly unite in one Church if the bishops would. He responded by out-
lining for me the seven different Patriarchs as follows: 1. Melkite
Catholic. 2. Syrian Catholic. 3. Chaldean. 4. Latin Patriarch. 5. Coptic
Catholic. 6. Maronite. 7. Armenian. He added: “They must unite. Then
the Orthodox could unite. If they would unite, the Orthodox could
unite. Pope John Paul II has said to them, “If you decide to unite, I will
sign.”
“Easter is the way,” added the Archbishop. “The first step must be
uniting for the feast of Easter. From Easter the jump will take place to
all the rest on doctrine. People want unity for Easter. One Church
includes more than the clergy.
“I believe one day the people will have a spiritual revolution to
demand the clergy, the hierarchy to unite. Jesus did not come to teach
Chapter 8. Interviews with Hierarchy in Damascus 175
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arithmetic but to serve and unite all people in himself as one body.”
At this striking statement I asked the Archbishop: “How many
other Orthodox bishops agree with what you have just said?” He
responded with disappointment: “None.” He added that a Latin bishop,
Luigi Accogli, who was former nuncio to Damascus (1987-1994), but is
now at the Vatican, gave a picture of the Soufanieh Icon to Pope John
Paul II. Bishop Accogli had dedicated, on October 15, 1999, the Center
of Our Lady of Soufanieh
in Rome for the unity of Christians and for
interreligious dialogue.
The young people of Damascus, whether Catholic or Orthodox, are
surely ready for unity of the Orthodox and the Catholics. On Monday,
May 7, 2001, when Pope John Paul II was in Damascus, there was a
youth gathering with the Pope. Wherever the Pope goes he gives special
attention to the youth and asks that he be able to meet with them. When
he met with them, both the Orthodox and the Catholic Patriarchs were
present as well as many priests from both the Orthodox and the
Catholic Church.
At this papal youth gathering there were different choirs that sang
hymns, and all the youth (around 5000 people) were singing with the
choirs and holding the Vatican flags. Then the Pope talked to the youth
about unity. Besides the Pope’s talk there were five speeches from the
youth. One of them, at the end of her speech, asked the Pope and the
Patriarchs for unity. All the youth shouted: “We want unity. We want
unity.”
Then it came Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregory III Laham’s turn
to take the microphone. He asked the youth, “Do you want unity?” All
the youth shouted very happily that they did. So Patriarch Laham
declared that Easter 2002 would be celebrated in union with the
Orthodox. Then the Orthodox Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I
made a speech welcoming this step and everyone was excited and happy
about it.
Unfortunately, due to some problems acquired from other rites, for
2002 Easter could not be celebrated by Orthodox and Catholics at the
same time. Thus in 2002, Catholics celebrated Easter on March 31 and
the Orthodox on May 5. Still, the Catholic Patriarch promised that this
would be cleared up and in 2003 Easter will be one Feast celebrated at
the same time despite anything.
We see in this, how difficult it is even for the Pope and Patriarchs
when they desire unity when not all the leaders of the rites, even those
with a valid priesthood, find it difficult to come to unity on something
such as the date for Easter. Selecting the date in no way involves the
unchangeable faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, God and Savior, who suf-
fered, died, rose from the dead—for the salvation of all. The importance
is our faith in all this and that we observe the remembrance in our hearts
and celebrate it sacramentally in the divine liturgy. Remember, Pope John
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Paul II has said to the different rites, “If you decide to unite, I will sign.”
His Holiness, Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I
Patriarch Zakka I is officially described in this manner: “Prince
Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. Supreme Head of the Universal
Syrian Orthodox Church.” His Church has about 5 million members.
He was already mentioned in chapter 2 of this book.
Fr. Elias Zahlaoui, who accompanied me to interview the Syriac
Orthodox Patriarch on September 17, 2001, assured me that this man
was indeed a holy man. It was an impression I found easy to accept once
I met him. Dressed in all his formal red robes, he met me in his audi-
ence hall but still his simplicity and humility seemed obvious to me. It
was an honor to sit in a chair near this Patriarch as he answered me from
the presiding chair, which he usually occupied in conducting more pres-
tigious meetings, even of the bishops under his jurisdiction.
“Why do you think Soufanieh is happening?” I inquired of the
Patriarch.
Response: “We believe in miracles. Miracles are more important
today because many Christian people have lost their faith. They are
Christian only in name. God has given us the account of miracles in the
Gospel. Mary gives us signs to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ and
His Mother.”
“What made you believe that the reported happenings of Soufanieh
to be true?”
Response: “First, the lady Myrna. God has chosen her who is faith-
ful, honest and virtuous and she continues to manifest virtuous ways.
“Myrna is suffering for the message which she received from St.
Mary and our Lord Jesus Christ. Once I saw the oil in her hands when
she came to visit Almighty God here (in the Holy Eucharist—Blessed
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Sacrament).
“A Moslem woman of Kuwait had asked if it is possible to send oil
from Soufanieh.
“Once a man from Kuwait came here for this and he asked if Myrna
could come here to this Patriarchal place. While they were talking the
Icon gave oil. (It was a reproduction or copy of the icon of Soufanieh.)
Then I saw oil in Myrna’s hands.
“I saw the oil myself in Myrna’s hands and from the Icon which they
brought here.
“I know Myrna is a very good person. I believe it is of God. Perhaps
it happened in my Patriarchate to let me know it is true, so that I would
believe. From that oil some was taken to the Muslim lady in Kuwait and
she was healed.”
I next asked the Patriarch, “What are the purposes of the messages
of Soufanieh?”
“When Christians become one it will be easier for Muslims to see
(accept) Christianity.
“When Pope John Paul II came here to Damascus, May 2001, both
the Orthodox and Catholics welcomed him as one. People admired that
unity, even the Muslims admired that the Orthodox and Catholics as
one welcomed the Pope. Our disunity is only a matter of administration.
“The Pope came to my church in May 2001 and I met him also at
the Vatican many times. In 1984 we signed at the Vatican a common
statement. In it we allowed Catholics and Syriac Orthodox to receive
Holy Communion in each other’s churches. The Pope agreed. I agreed.
Some of our family were not happy. I did that as the head of the Syriac
Orthodox Church.
“My synod had studied every word of the statement before I went
to the Vatican and they agreed. Every member of the synod agreed. That
was 17 years ago.”
“Are all pleased now?” I asked.
Response: “I don’t know if all are now pleased. We have done it and
I see that it was by the Holy Spirit.”
The Syriac Orthodox Patriarch continued: “Five or six years ago for
the See of Alexandria, we met in Cairo in Egypt. We had a meeting and
we decided that from now on there shall be three of us, if any more state-
ments to be signed with other churches, not only one. I said that what-
ever I signed before holds. They then accepted what I have done with
the Roman Catholic Church. It seems that Our Lord is bringing
Christians together in her Son Jesus Christ.”
Since I was in Syria to write a book on the Virgin of Soufanieh and
the miraculous happenings associated with the Icon of Soufanieh, I
inquired of the Patriarch: “Did you get this spirit from Soufanieh to act
in this way?”
Response: “I had the spirit for unity like this before but Soufanieh
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reaffirms this spirit for me.”
I asked the Patriarch: “When I write the book on Soufanieh what
especially would you like me to say?”
Response: “It is the work of the Holy Spirit who leads us always to the
truth. The Holy Spirit leads us to the truth. Christians must live the truth.
Jesus Christ is the Way, the Life, the Truth.”
It was clear to me here that His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius
Zakka I was calling upon all Christians to have an open heart to the
Holy Spirit to lead us into unity, to one Church that Jesus built. I got
the personal impression, as I did from Archbishop Jajjawi of the Syrian
Orthodox Archdiocese of Hasakh, Syria, that the Patriarch also was
ready to move on Christian unity with the Pope and prayed and longed
intensely for the moment for others of Eastern Rite churches to come
together in unity. When the Christians of the world, especially the
Orthodox and Catholics unite as one, the hope for the conversion of
Muslims to Jesus Christ as Lord, God and Savior will be more likely.
After this interview, Myrna later told me that the Orthodox Patri-
arch is a native of Iraq. “When people come from Iraq the Patriarch tells
them to go to Soufanieh.”
On the same day as the interview with His Holiness Moran Mor
Ignatius Zakka I, Syriac Patriarch, Nicolas told me that it had been pub-
licly
announced that very day that “henceforth [in future years] the
Catholics and Orthodox will celebrate Easter on the same day.”
Interview with Patriarch Gregory III Laham—Patriarch
of all Melkite Catholics in the world.
He is Patriarch of this Arab-rite Church
of 1.4 million faithful.
On September 19, 2001, at Damascus, I
was able to interview the Melkite Catholic
Patriarch Gregory III. He too was most recep-
tive when my purpose of interview was to
obtain information on Soufanieh. He was very
gracious, and immediately teased me about
being a “fox.” Then he expressed his deep sor-
row about the tragedy of terrorism with the
planes, the destruction and deaths in the
United States of America and said, “We must
pray that the right decisions will be made.”
I gave Patriarch Gregory III my back-
ground as a parish priest, author of books,
work with Eternal Word Television
Chapter 8. Interviews with Hierarchy in Damascus 179
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Network. . . .
I asked the Patriarch if he knew about Our Lady of Soufanieh. “Yes,
but I would not be able to give you details. You must interview some
people like Fr. Elias Zahlaoui.” I answered that I had already done so to
which the Patriarch replied, “Good.”
In my personal view I felt that the Melkite Catholic Patriarch was
being careful because with Nicolas being Orthodox, the family is looked
upon by the Orthodox as being Orthodox even though Myrna has
retained membership in the Catholic Church and her children like to go
with her to the divine liturgy.
I asked the Patriarch for his impression of Soufanieh.
Response: “I am not for it or against it.”
“Is your position then neutral?” I asked.
Response: “Not neutral. It is always good when there is faith and
prayer.” I felt it was like saying, since this is an Orthodox family, center
of the reported happenings, it is not for me as Melkite Catholic to make
a pronouncement.
“Is it true that yesterday, September 17, it was publicly announced
that henceforth Easter for Melkite Catholics and all Orthodox will be
celebrated at the same time?”
The Melkite Patriarch answered me: “I signed the statement for this
on September 3, 200l [although just announced]. We will celebrate
Easter at the same time as the Orthodox.”
I inquired: “Do you think this will be the beginning of other
Catholic rites and Orthodox rites celebrating Easter at the same time?
Response: “I hope so.”
When Pope John Paul II was visiting Damascus on May 5, 2001, he
proposed that Christians in the East and West celebrate Easter on the
same date, as a visible sign of the quest for full unity. The joint agree-
ment by the Syriac Orthodox and Greek-Melkite Catholics in Syria was
the beginning of the fulfillment of the mission given Myrna Nazzour by
Our Lady of Soufanieh and Jesus for Christian Unity. But, of course, her
mission extends beyond Syria.
“Do you believe then that progress is being made for Christian
Unity?” I asked.
Response: “Yes. I see you are a fox.”
I smiled and said: “If Christians become united, will this not make
it easier for Muslims to recognize Christianity?”
The Patriarch replied: “Yes. Jesus prayed as follows: ‘I pray also for
those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one as
you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me. . . .”
I was rather persistent with the gracious Melkite Patriarch, who was
just as gracious with me. It is important to remember that the Catholic
hierarchy exercises great care when the heavenly messages are originating
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from an Orthodox home. The very home in which the apparitions have
taken place, where Myrna receives the messages, undergoes the sufferings
of the stigmata when Orthodox and Catholics celebrate Easter at the
same time, and takes place in a home owned by the Nazzours (not just
Nicolas) who are Orthodox, and the head of Myrna’s family is Nicolas
who is Orthodox.
This Patriarch the following month went to Rome for the World
Synod of Bishops and on October 23, 2001, during a break in the ses-
sions, addressed the press. Regarding relations with the Muslim world,
the Patriarch said, “Islam is not compact; it differs from one place to
another.” Regarding Syria, he added: “Relations between Muslims and
Christians have improved since the attacks on the United States [Sep-
tember 11]. Dialogue is accelerating in response to terrorism.”
The October, 2001, Synod of Bishops, which included almost 250
bishops from more than 110 countries, was focused on the bishops’ role
in the Church and the Church becoming the Church of the poor. Pope
John Paul II attended all the sessions of the month-long meeting. He
praised the “climate of communion” and said “the Church’s strength is
her communion, her weakness is division and internal strife.”
Pope John Paul II then urged the bishops to courageously promote
Church teaching and work for Church unity. At the synod’s closing
Mass, October 27 in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope said: “A credible
answer can be given to the challenges that come from today’s social and
cultural context only if the deep and convinced unity of the shepherds
among themselves and with the successor of Peter, as well as of the bish-
ops with their priests, is clearly perceptible.”
Heaven has a divine plan and good reason why, after 2000 years, at
a time when interest in Christian unity is so high among both Catholics
since the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965) and the Orthodox today,
an Orthodox family was chosen whose mother is Eastern Rite Catholic
in union with Rome.
“Do you know about Our Lady of Soufanieh concerning Chris-
tianity Unity?” I asked the Patriarch.
“Yes” was his simple answer.
“Did the Pope coming here May, 2001 assist Christian Unity?” I
asked.
The Patriarch replied: “Yes, both the Orthodox and Catholics invit-
ed him. At least 70 bishops of the Orient were present to join the Pope.
Never before have there been so many bishops of the Orient with the
Pope at one time.”
This Greek-Melkite leader was born in Damascus and his See is in
that city.
When I returned from the interview with the Melkite Catholic
Patriarch, John Emmanuel, the 13-year-old son of Nicolas and Myrna,
had just returned from his first day of school. I saw that he was
Chapter 8. Interviews with Hierarchy in Damascus 181
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affectionately embraced by his father and received by his mother.
Immediately upon return, John Emmanuel showed his parents a
book from which he is learning English. I said to the boy through his
parents, “Good that you learn English. Then I’ll be able to talk to you.”
(Nicolas speaks English fluently. Myrna does well, but with greater hes-
itancy.)
In September 2001, I visited Bishop Diego Causero, the papal nun-
cio to Damascus, a role he has had since 1999. At this same time, Bishop
Luigi Accogli (nuncio, 1987-1994) was making arrangements for an
ecumenical meeting, October 12, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and to
which he had invited Myrna to attend. (On October 15, 1999, in Rome,
Bishop Accogli had dedicated the Center of Our Lady of Soufanieh for
the unity of Christians and for interreligious dialogue.) The October 12
planned meeting was cancelled, at least for a time, in response to the ter-
rorists’ attack in the United States of a month earlier.
Before going to the papal nuncio’s residence, Fr. Elias Zahlaoui said
to me, “I know from the reaction of the Secretary of the [former] papal
nuncio of Damascus that Rome is happy regarding Soufanieh. The for-
mer nuncio came here to pray; he was saying Mass here in this Soufanieh
house. The Pope listens but does not talk as Nicolas is Orthodox. I gave
His Holiness a book (in French) on Soufanieh, titled, The Apparitions in
Damascus
, by Christian Ravaz. Rome does not interfere but the Pope
expressed happiness of what is happening at Soufanieh.”
On December 18, 1999, Fr. Zahlaoui met the nuncio and gave him
two books in French with information on Soufanieh. Then Fr. Zahlaoui
traveled for three weeks to Europe but had not received any expressed
reaction from the nuncio.
While the present papal nuncio, Bishop Diego Causero, is very cau-
tious, he did graciously receive the author and Tobias Beutgen, a 25-
year-old German traveling companion. The nuncio is aware of Sou-
fanieh but obviously thinks it prudent not to make any direct comments.
It seems he is being sensitive to the Orthodox and Catholic families of
the area in which he lives. There is a special sensitivity to the Orthodox
authorities who have risked some involvement as reported elsewhere in
this book.
Again, especially for us in the Western world, we must understand
this caution in light of the Eastern mentality and their position that they
consider the Nazzours to be an Orthodox family, based on the father’s
religion. The Catholic Church would not want to give the impression
that they were superseding that position. This is especially important
when very good ecumenical relations exist in Damascus between the
Greek Orthodox and the Catholics.
Before going to the papal nuncio’s residence I asked Fr. Zahlaoui
this question: “Do you know whether any reaction has been given by
Pope John Paul II to Soufanieh?”
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Response: “Rome does not say anything about Soufanieh because
Nicolas is Greek Orthodox. Myrna is Catholic. Rome listens but does
not talk as Nicolas is Orthodox.”
Bishop Causero informed me that he was aware of Soufanieh. He
expressed nothing against Soufanieh. He was able to say that he under-
stood people going to Soufanieh were praying and if those who go there
pray, that was favorable.
That the House of Soufanieh is a place of prayer is a fact. This is
shown in the atmosphere of peace, joy and serenity that pervade the
house. This is true in spite of the necessary imposition of those who
come there in constant visitation. It is because of the Virgin’s request
that the doors be open each day,
There are two prayer services each day; the prayer of the Rosary and
common prayer which includes the prayers taught by Jesus and Mary.
Sometimes there are three or four services. The week I was a guest at
Soufanieh there was also a daily Mass at 6 p.m.; always many partici-
pated. It was a great joy to be handed a large framed picture of the Icon,
once I had concluded the Mass. With it I would bless all present. Then
each one would come forth to venerate and kiss the image of the Virgin
with Child.
Since November 27, 1982, prayer has not ceased for even one day.
Moslems participate spontaneously in the general prayers since they
hold the Virgin Mary in high esteem. People who visit Soufanieh for the
first time are impressed by the fervor of the believers. Spiritual conver-
sions are numerous and are looked upon as more important than physi-
cal cures. Myrna herself says that what is important is not oil but that
people turn in prayer to the Holy Spirit.
Lives have been totally transformed. Meanwhile, Myrna keeps her
simplicity and integrity; despite many opportunities that could lead her
to become proud, she remains the same. Her goal is than all be for the
glory of God and the Virgin. For this goal her husband Nicolas and their
children Miriam (born October 15, 1986) and John Emmanuel (born
July 26, 1988) agree and cooperate.
C
Chapter 8. Interviews with Hierarchy in Damascus 183
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Our Lady of Kazan Icon
184