Farewelling the Abdallah children in a service of hope

An honour guard of 150 or more burly, mostly-bearded construction workers, from Danny Abdallah’s Rock Form Group, lined the path as The King’s School drummers led the sad procession to our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in Harris Park, Sydney, this morning.

Three small coffins carried by the family entered the Co-Cathedral as the honour guard linked hands and stood proudly to honour their boss’s loss. The crowd gathered in the forecourt were visibly moved.

Sydney’s Christian family came together to help the Abdallah family farewell their children Antony, Angelina and Sienna. The children’s Anglican schools and a Hillsong worship choir took part in the Catholic service.

The sung funeral rite was opened in prayer by Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, Maronite Bishop of Australia. “Give joy in your eternal paradise … grant them happiness and rest with you,” he prayed. “So, they may offer glory and thanksgiving to your exalted divinity.”

“Count them among the host of the innocent children,” was the second prayer. “Extend your mercy to them” was a third. “May they find rest with saints in eternal glory.”

The Maronite choir led the congregation, which overflowed into two halls, in Arabic and English in a hymn of forgiveness, that the children’s sins – and ours – may be forgiven.

The readings came first in Arabic then in English from 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18:

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

The gospel was introduced with a chorus “Let the let children come unto me”, followed by a passage from Luke 2.22. in which Simeon looks forward to the consolation of Israel and says, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation…”.

Monsignor Shora Maree gave the homily (sermon).

“You have brought Anthony, Angelina and Sienna here three times clothed in white. The first time from their baptism, where the final words we say are ‘when they lay aside the garment of their flesh, may they not lay aside you. Be for them an imperishable garment.’ We are confident they are clothed with Christ.

“The gospel we heard read was the gospel of the weekend when the children passed. The gospel of a happy time when Simeon took the child from his parents. ‘I have seen salvation,’ he says…

“Mary was given the sword of pain. But we have been given another sword, the Word of God, Jesus…

“Just like the hill of Oatlands, we are not going to forget that hill. But on another hill, the hill of Calvary, he entered into our pain and suffering … He will raise us at the last day as we heard.

“Leila, you said the words of forgiveness that have stunned the world. Just like Our Lady you shared Jesus; prayer ‘Father, forgive them’.

“Some may say ‘why did not God stop this?’ An understandable question. I am going to ask you to take some homework with you.

“I’d like to offer three words for homework to help answer why now. Three “w” words

“The first is ‘who’. Who is going to show us the meaning? Jesus Christ, that is who.

“Antony, on Instagram, at 13 years old, wrote, ‘Give Jesus your question, he will give you his answer’.

“The second word, ‘what with?’ That’s two words. Faith. Absolute open-hearted faith. Nothing between me and my faith in him.

“Angelina: Leila was afraid of the dark, but Angelina was not scared. She was clothed with Christ.

“Second part of what with: sacrifice. The good of others.

“Siena, on her eighth birthday: Danny asked ‘what do you want to do?’ ‘Dad, it’s Friday, we have to go to Team Jesus, we have to feed others. [Team Jesus is a ministry to the homeless supported by the Abdallah family.] She had her birthday cake there and she gave her piece to one of the homeless.

“Jesus is the sword that comes to heal the wound.

“When? Now. Not tomorrow but now. After every funeral, homily, or mass we have homework.

“Antony at 13: When the family are building their new house, he said, ‘the first room that I am interested in is the prayer room.’

Prayer in the car: on the way to basketball on the last day, Antony and Danny have a bit of time and stop off at St Mary’s Cathedral to pray. ‘I want to dedicate this game to Kobe Bryant,’ he said.

“Prayer was the foundation of their day.

“God has taken us to the most wonderful celebration in heaven. Danny, Leila, the last time you have brought them clothed in white is today. So we can pray again the prayer we prayed at their baptism: ‘Grant that when they lay aside the physical garment of their body, may they not lay aside you, their new and imperishable garment.’”

Prayers for the family placed them into the hands of God, to keep them from doubt and later to bring them into Jesus’ presence in eternity. “Fly high, little angels,” prayed a schoolmate from the Kings  School. “Whether we are on the mountaintop or in the valley, may we praise you” was another prayer, that Danny and Leila would draw many to Christ.

The Hillsong choir sung hymns during the mass including Worthy is the Lamb and Shout to the Lord. Darlene Zschech joined the Hillsong crew to sing Shout to the Lord.

At the end of the Mass, Tara staff and students stood to sing the Tara blessing song. “May we always leave you in his care… May he always shine on you”. Then, the Maronite and Hillsong choir sang recessional hymns and the procession left the church.

Danny and Leila asked mourners in lieu of flowers to donate to the poor and needy of Lebanon.

Like ancient icons, the children’s portraits left the cathedral with the Maronite drumming band blending with the song What a Beautiful Name It Is; the honour guard linked hands and gathered as a shield around the family as the white coffins passed.

Finally, doves, followed by rosary-bead-balloons.