Antonia was on a pilgrimage with Aid to the Church in Need on June 14 when she finally met Archbishop Samir, with whom she had been in regular email contact for the past six years, and who had travelled from Damascus in Syria to meet them.
“For the past six years of the Syria war, 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,” said Antonia. “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 Daesh or ISIS.”
“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,” said Antonia.
“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.”
Antonia took the opportunity to present him with a small statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, which Mgr John Armitage had blessed following the Feast of Divine Mercy in Walsingham.
She said: “The 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 overcome with silent tears, so awesome was this spiritually speaking.
“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 in prayer for his difficult mission and 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 but it never reached the Archbishop, instead ending up travelling around the houses of families in Damascus in great need of encouragement.
Antonia said: “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.”
Pictured above is Antonia presenting a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham to Archbishop Samir in Lebanon.