by Antonia Moffat
Over the past 6 years of the 7 years of the Syrian civil war I have been in regular email contact with Archbishop Samir Nassar, the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus. It all began in 2011 when I wanted to contact him re a possible Act of Consecration of Syria to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Somehow Our Blessed Mother arranged it that I obtained an introduction. Since that time I have had the joy and privilege of accompanying this courageous and faith filled Archbishop, his flock and peoples in prayer, friendship, faith, solidarity and charity. Through the Archbishop’s regular letters I have encouraged many hundreds of others to have a deeper understanding of the life of the suffering Church in a war zone. Through various Pilgrimage collections and days of prayer monies have been sent to support the Archbishop in his daily work of helping and supporting desperate refugees fleeing from the latest atrocities inflicted by Daech or ISIS.
In 2011 I was still living in Walsingham, and I very much saw the grace of this spiritual friendship as coming through the intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham. Our Lady of Walsingham in 1061 asked that a replica of the Holy House of the Annunciation be built in Walsingham. Hence, “Nazareth” was realised in Walsingham, and England, Mary’s Dowry became in a spiritual sense another “Holy Land”.
Walsingham had an ancient connection with the Church of the Middle East as Walsingham was and is known as “England’s Nazareth”. For it was to Walsingham that ancient pilgrims came from Europe and all over the world when it was unsafe to pilgrimage to the Holy Land especially during the times of the Crusades when the Holy Land became closed to pilgrims. "England’s Nazareth" hence acquired a special significance. And this special significance is just as important today!
And so this solidarity of friendship and prayer deepened and of course included the entire Middle East with all Syria, Iraq, Egypt, the Holy Land, Jordan, and all the other lands included in the prayer.
From small, tentative beginnings a great spiritual friendship has been made possible in the heart of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, our beloved Lady of Walsingham! It has inspired numerous occasions of prayerful solidarity.
On 14th July 2017 I had the privilege of going on pilgrimage with Aid to the Church in Need to Lebanon, which made possible a first ever meeting with Archbishop Samir who came from Damascus. You will see from the above photo that I presented him with a little Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, which Mgr John Armitage had blessed following the Feast of Divine Mercy in Walsingham - you can watch it here. This Statue was presented to the Archbishop as a pledge of our continued prayer, solidarity and love for the persecuted Church in Syria and beyond. In that moment my heart was filled with love, prayer and I was over come with silent tears, so awesome was this spiritually speaking! I think you will sense this from the photo. The Archbishop has placed the Statue on his working desk in Damascus as a constant reminder to him that he has friends all over the world supporting him, praying for his difficult mission, which helps him carry the great cross which the Lord has placed upon his shoulders.
In March 2016 a first Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was blessed by Mgr Armitage in Walsingham and taken by Fr Shafiq Abouzayd (Melkite Chaplain) to be sent to Damascus. He gave it to Omar Souria to take to Damascus to deliver it to the Archbishop. All we kept hearing was that it never got to the Archbishop and that two ladies had “kidnapped” spiritually speaking the Statue for a special purpose – to send it to the houses of families in Damascus in great need of encouragement.
Just yesterday - 16th July - I found out the real story! I met Omar at the Melkite “Byzantine Liturgy” in London for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He had personally tried to deliver the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham twice to the Archbishop but had had no success. Hence he left the statue with his Mother who greatly loves it. I told him that I would be delighted for them to keep the statue.
Today I received the following pledge from Omar: “Thank you very much for sending the video and photos. I promise that the original statue of our Lady of Walsingham will visit many homes throughout Damascus and hopefully even other cities and towns in Syria. You too will be in our prayers and I look forward to seeing you soon at some point. Warmest wishes, Omar.”
How beautiful is that! God’s ways are not our ways and Our Lady had other plans and we just had to be patient to see! Who could ever have imagined that Our Lady of Walsingham would find a way of travelling around Damascus and other parts of Syria as a Pilgrim Statue?
I exhort you and encourage you to pray much for the suffering and persecuted Church of Syria, Iraq and the many others countries where persecution is intense and heavy.
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us, pray for Syria, pray for Iraq, pray for the persecuted Church. Come Holy Spirit of Light and renew the face of the earth. Amen.
If you would like to receive the Archbishop’s letters on occasions and receive updates, contact Antonia Moffat via email: firstname.lastname@example.org