In Australia, deaths of four children lead to stories of faith

In Australia, deaths of four children lead to stories of faith

Family members follow the hearse after the funeral of Veronique Sakr in Harris Park, Australia, Feb. 11, 2020. Veronique, 11, and three of her cousins were killed instantly Feb. 1 when an alleged drunk driver crashed into them as they walked along a footpath near their home. (Credit: Giovanni Portelli/The Catholic Weekly via CNS.)

The deaths of three siblings and their cousin -- killed as they were walking to get ice cream -- led to stories of faith and forgiveness that "stunned the world," a priest said at their funeral.

SYDNEY — The deaths of three siblings and their cousin — killed as they were walking to get ice cream — led to stories of faith and forgiveness that “stunned the world,” a priest said at their funeral.

Msgr. Shora Maree told the mourners Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral in Harris Park that the three siblings are “alive with Christ,” and the proof was in how their parents were dealing with their deaths.

Antony Abdallah, 13, his sisters, Angelina, 12, and Sienna, 8, and their cousin Veronique Sakr, 11, were killed instantly Feb. 1 when an alleged drunk driver crashed into them as they walked along a footpath near their home. Leanna Abdallah, 10, was injured in the crash. Another cousin, Charbel Kassas, 11, was hospitalized with serious injuries.

Speaking to reporters at the scene a day after the tragedy, Leila Abdallah said she had forgiven the driver who had caused her children’s death.

“I think in my heart to forgive him, but I want the court to be fair,” she said. She said she knew her children were in heaven but added she felt she was “walking the Stations of the Cross.”

Fingering a dark wooden rosary, Leila Abdallah, who with her husband, Daniel, also has three younger children, spoke of the pointlessness of striving for material things in life over the things of heaven.

“… I know nothing happens unless God wants it to happen,” she said, adding, “This is God’s will.”

Thousands of people gathered over two days to bid farewell to the children, with Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay of Sydney presiding at both funerals.

On Feb. 10, a 200-strong honor guard formed by employees of Daniel Abdallah lined the driveway for the arrival of the hearses for the three siblings.

Mourners wore white in honor of a request from the Abdallah family and overflowed the church and its grounds. Drummers from Kings School, where Antony attended, led the procession, and bells rang as the three white flower-covered coffins were carried into the church. Antony’s was also draped with a basketball jersey.

Maree told the parents: “Danny and Leila, we have seen (in) you an inspirational example and testimony to the power of God’s love.

“Danny, you said Jesus is the rock of your family. Leila, you said the words of forgiveness that stunned the world.

“That doesn’t come from something human; that has come from the divine. What an inspiration to all of us. We are seeing the renewal of faith of so many, and it’s a wonderful sign.”

He said that on the day of the children’s passing, Antony and his father had stopped to pray at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral before the teen’s basketball game.

Antony dedicated the game to basketball legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a plane crash with his teenage daughter and seven others the previous week. As prayer was the “foundation of their family life,” Shora urged those gathered to allow the children “to teach us the way of prayer.”

“And may we all, politicians, parents, people of different religious denominations, see where we need to step up our witness to our society about the value of human life,” he added.

The following day, Santa Sabina College Chapel in Strathfield was filled to overflowing for the Maronite Catholic funeral for Veronique, described by her mother, Bridget Sakr, as a child who was much more interested in people and life than material things.

Bridget Sakr said she had often wondered why her daughter, who “oozed empathy,” had never been attached to any toys or gifts.

“It now makes sense. She never belonged to this world,” she said.

“Many times I have prayed and reflected on the seven sorrows of Our Lady and thought of the fifth sorrow, her agony and pain at the crucifixion of her son,” she said.

“My heart is now in agony, but it is a comfort to know that, in so often reflecting on this sorrow of Our Lady, God has prepared me for today.”

In the homily, Maree said Veronique’s hugs, joy-filled smile, cheeky personality and infectious laugh were signs of her love.

“We all would have prayed that she would have risen (like Jairus’ daughter in the Gospel), but God tells us that he has raised Veronique and led her to the banquet in heaven,” he said.

Thousands of people have visited the Bettington Road crash site to pray and leave flowers, teddy bears, prayers, candles and rosaries.

Samuel William Davidson, 29, allegedly had three times the legal blood alcohol limit when he drove into the children. He has been charged with 20 offenses, including four counts of manslaughter, and is due to appear in court in April.

Rodrigues is a journalist with The Catholic Weekly in Sydney.


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