Mary of the Day (November 26) – Our Lady of Soufanieh, Damascus, Syria
On November 22, 1982, three women of different faiths — Orthodox, Catholicism, Islam — stood in prayer around a sickbed in the Soufanieh neighborhood of Damascus. Seeing light, then oil, coming from the Catholic woman’s hands, the Moslem woman urged her to put them on the sick person, who was instantly healed. Thus began the spiritual career of Myrna, a member of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, then only 18 and recently married to Nicolas Nazzour, of the Antiochan Greek Orthodox Church.
Five days later, oil began oozing from a small picture of Our Lady of Kazan in Myrna and Nicolas’s home — an icon both Catholics and Orthodox Christians revere, known for miracles and healings. With a year’s break in 1985-86, oil flowed from the image until November 26, 1990.
On December 15, 1982, Myrna saw the Virgin coming from a globe of light in a eucalyptus tree. From then on she repeatedly saw and received messages from both Mary and Jesus, until November 26, 1990, when she reported the Virgin’s farewell: “… you are seeing Me for the last time until the feast is unified.” Consistent with the seer’s personal location in a nexus of faiths, the messages of Soufanieh call for Christian unity, including agreement on the date of Easter, historically different in the western and eastern churches. Often Myrna heard the Virgin repeat the Biblical sayings of Jesus: “Love one another. … Forbear and forgive. … Do not fear, I am with you.” In an early message from Mary, Myrna learned the affirmation, “God saves me, Jesus enlightens me, the Holy Spirit is my life, thus I fear nothing.” We were told also then that the Virgin had promised Myrna that he would only see her again in the years when Catholics and Orthodox celebrate Easter together; which happens rarely, because of the difference in the liturgical calendars.
Syria, especially in the 1980s, was a very controlled country, with eyes and ears everywhere. Among other things, Islamic fundamentalists were preparing for a coup attempt at Hama. “On November 28, 1982, four secret service officers arrived – he told us during a visit that we made to Father Elias Zahlaoui, the parish priest of Notre Dame de Damas there in 2001 – and in Syria the secret services are very serious. A doctor was with them. Two agents mingled with the crowd, and while two agents presented themselves openly. They believed there were tubes; so they disassembled the image, but the oil kept coming out. They tidied it respectfully, and asked Myrna to wash their hands in front of them, since they had heard that Myrna had produced oil on her hands. After washing her hands; she wiped her hands with the towel, and then they gave her some tissues. Her hands were dried before them, and then they asked her to start praying again. Instantly the two hands were covered with oil. They took her hands, they rubbed her palms. An agent said to the doctor: ‘So, hakiim?’. The doctor raised his hand and looked at the sky, and answered ‘Allah Akbar’, God is great. And it ended up like this: after we did not know anything about it anymore”.
In reality the «affaire» did not end there at all. The report – say some diplomatic sources of Damascus – reached to the highest office, up to the desk of the rais (capo), President Hafez Al Assad of Syria (father of the current president Bashar Hafiz al-Assad). Member of the Islamic confession Alawita, an Islamic confession, different from the two great Sunni and Shiite branches, but attentive to relations with Christianity. When the president began to suffer the sickness that would take him to the grave, someone came to ask for a picture of the Madonna of Soufanieh, and a cotton ball impregnated with miraculous oil. Myrna wrote a few words on the back of an image – no one knows what – and then added a piece of cotton, and everything was brought to the president. The faithfuls of the miraculous Virgin attributed our Lady the merit of having prolonged the life of the rais (capo o president).
Since 1983, Myrna has occasionally suffered intense stigmatic wounds during ecstasy, visible to others during the day and completely gone by midnight. Many miracles have been attributed to the oil from her icon and hands. The position of the hierarchy on the Soufanieh devotions is unclear, supporters claiming blessings and church approval and detractors claiming fraud and church disapproval. Priests and bishops, both Catholic and Orthodox, have celebrated masses in connection with the devotions. Annual anniversary celebrations begin November 26 with mass in a church, followed by evening prayers and festivities at the Nazzours’ home, with Myrna, Nicolas, their two children, relatives, friends, and followers.
VIDEO DOCUMENTARY: EWTN – Testimony of Fr. Robert Fox
Complete Series of 7 Documentaries of Our Lady of Soufanieh:
Official website: http://www.soufanieh.com/menuenglish.htm
Picture from Association Notre-Dame-de-Soufanieh à Montréal, www.soufanieh.com; information from that and other sources.