Vatican City

Australian family recalls tragic story of pain and forgiveness

The Abdallahs who lost three children and a niece after being hit by a drunk driver were invited by the Vatican to share their story

Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Updated: June 25, 2022 05:46 AM GMT

Flowers are pictured at a makeshift memorial at the site of an accident that killed four children from the Abdallah family the day before, in the Oatlands suburbs of Sydney on Feb. 2, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

At 8 years old, Alex Abdallah knows that some people need more time than others to forgive someone.

When I heard my brother and sisters died, my mum and dad told me they forgave the driver, but I wasn't that happy because I was like, 'Too quick.' People don't forgive that quickly. Like, I had to wait, Alex told Catholic News Service June 24.

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In February 2020, as four of his siblings and three of his cousins were walking to the store to get ice cream in Sydney, a driver who was drunk and on drugs drove up on the sidewalk, striking all seven children. Four of them died.

Leila and Danny Abdallah lost their children Antony, 13, Angelina, 12, and Sienna, 8, and their niece, Veronique Sakr, 11.

Two days after the horrible accident, Leila returned to the scene, which was covered in flowers, candles, notes, balloons and stuffed toys. She prayed there.

Then television reporters put a microphone in front of her and she told them: I don't hate him. I think in my heart I forgive him, but I want the court to be fair.

In 2021, the driver was sentenced to between 21 years and 28 years in prison.

But what has dominated the Abdallahs' life -- and hours of television coverage about it -- is their focus on the power of forgiveness.

They have received government, ecumenical and interreligious support for i4Give Day, each year on the Feb. 1 anniversary of the children's death.

With their surviving children -- Liana, Alex, Michael and newborn Selina -- the Abdallahs were invited by the Vatican to share their story at the World Meeting of Families in Rome June 22-26.

Just so you know, Danny said, we never asked our kids to forgive the driver.

But Alex said that about a year after the tragedy and after the driver said a very big sorry, he, too, was ready to forgive.

It felt good, he said.

Leila credits the Holy Spirit with moving her heart and her lips the day she first said she forgave the driver.

As a Christian, I am meant to forgive, Leila said. Forgiveness is the core message of our Christianity. All our prayer is about forgiveness. And when we pray the Lord's Prayer we say, 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' And these are words to be taken seriously.

Without forgiveness, she would be wallowing in anger and bitterness, she said. I would be living in agony and misery. I would have lost my marriage. I would have lost my kids to trauma, to suicide, drugs and alcohol. But we live in faith. We are Christian, and we live in hope of the resurrection.

Danny said he was not surprised at all that his wife forgave the driver so quickly.

Later that night, we spoke about honoring God. We said, 'OK, the kids are in heaven. All we ever wanted was to get them there,' Danny said. And they knew that they had to follow God's will and be forgiving so that they could be reunited with their children one day.

Danny said he was a fighter and, if it weren't for his wife and surviving children, he might have gone after the driver. But I had to keep my 'dad hat' on and make every decision as a father.

If I had made the option of revenge, bitterness and anger, he said, I can guarantee you, it would sit in my kids' souls as well and my wife's, my whole household would have been lost.

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