The parents of three kids mowed down and killed by a drunk driver have received not one but two standing ovations at the Vatican after a powerful address about forgiveness.
Western Sydney couple Danny and Leila Abdallah were invited by the Pope to share their harrowing story with thousands of parishioners at the 2022 World Meeting of Families in Rome on Saturday.
Their three children Sienna, 8, Angelina, 12, Antony, 13, and niece Veronique Sakr, 11, were killed by Samuel William Davidson who was drunk and high on drugs while behind the wheel in Oatlands on February 1, 2020.
Flanked by their children Liana, 12, Alex, seven, Michael, six, and 14-week-old Selina, the Abdallahs spoke to a global audience on the eve of would have been Antony’s 16th birthday.
Ms Abdallah recalled the heartbreaking moment she learned her children had been killed as her husband explained why they’ve chosen to forgiven the driver through the I4Give campaign the family has set up.
Their speech was so powerful it brought the Catholic world to their feet, including a contingent of Australians in the crowd at the Vatican proudly holding the national flag.
Danny and Leila Abdallah pictured at the Vatican with baby daughter Selina and son Michael may get a chance to meet the Pope after their harrowing story about forgiveness brought a standing ovation
Bishops around the world were so moved by their story that the Abdallahs may also get a face to face meeting with the Pope himself, depending on his health.
‘There’s been more than two years and I must choose to forgive myself and the driver every day, to not retreat into hatred,’ Mr Abdallah told the Vatican and millions watching online.
‘I choose to forgive myself for telling my kids to go for walk. I choose to forgive the offender in obedience to my Father in heaven.
‘If my children were here today, they would say ‘Dad, forgive him.’
‘When you forgive the other person, you start to heal.’
His wife Leila added: ‘I would not have imagined we would be in the Vatican on the eve of my son’s birthday to speak about forgiveness to the world.’
Leila Abdallah (pictured) and her husband addressed the 2022 World Meeting of Families in Rome on the eve of what would have been son Antony’s 16th birthday
Ms Abdallah received an overwhelming round of applause after revealing she didn’t hate the driver and had forgiven him.
‘As Christians, we’re meant to forgive,’ she said.
‘I believe the Holy Spirit has moved my lips to forgive in that moment.’
‘You can’t control what happens in life, but you can choose how to respond. We choose forgiveness over hatred, we choose love over revenge and we choose to turn the day of tragedy into a day of forgiveness.
‘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.’
The Abdallahs were also recognised by the Pope with a photo of family on his official Instagram page.
‘The family is the place of encounter, of sharing, of going forth from ourselves in order to welcome others and stand beside them. The family is the first place where we learn to love,’ the post read.
Danny and Leila Abdallah, accompanied by their four children, spoke at the Vatican on Saturday (pictured, the Abdallah family)
Their daughters, Sienna, 8, (second from left) and Angelina, 12, (right) their son Antony, 13, (second from right) and niece Veronique Sakr, 11, (left) were on their way to buy ice-cream when a drunk driver ran them over and killed them in February 2020
The four children along with three other siblings and cousins were walking on the footpath on their way to buy ice cream along Bettington Road when the driver mounted the curb and struck the children from behind.
‘How can one car hit seven children, they couldn’t have scripted this in a horror movie,’ Mr Abdallah recalled.
‘It was a perfect summer’s day when seven precious, adorable children walked to get some ice cream for my niece’s birthday.’
‘What should have been an enjoyable outing for the young kids turned into one of the worst road tragedies Australia has ever seen.’
‘From far away I saw the police cover Antony, Selina, Angelina and Veronique with white sheets. They were gone.’
His wife recalled how she went with an injured Liana to the hospital, thinking her other children would be okay until her husband arrived with the worst news possible.
‘I was crying, screaming and begging it for not to be true,’ she recalled.
Mr Abdallah said despite ‘unbearable pain and sleepless nights’ he chose to forgive Davidson so his family could find peace.
‘We would either be stuck in the valley of pain and grief or I could lead them to the high ground,’ he said.
Samuel William Davidson, 31, was sentenced to last year to a maximum of 28-year prison sentence with a minimum 21 year sentence which does not expire until 2041
On February 1, 2020, Mr and Mrs Abdallah’s three children Sienna, 8, Angelina, 12, Antony, 13, and niece Veronique Sakr, 11, were killed by an intoxicated driver (pictured, the car after the crash)
‘I choose to forgive myself for telling my kids to go for a walk. If my children were here today they would say ”Dad forgive him”.’
Mrs Abdallah, just two days after losing her children, remarkably said she forgave the driver, later adding her response to the tragedy saved her marriage and her family.
Her son Alex said he couldn’t understand why.
‘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”,’ he told Catholic News Service.
The family said forgiving the man responsible for their heartache was the only way they could move forward
The family were invited to speak on what would have been Antony’s 16th birthday
The seven-year-old said that now within his heart, he too has forgiven Davidson.
Mrs Abdallah also took the chance to wish her son Antony a ‘happy, heavenly 16th birthday’.
Davidson was sentenced last year to a maximum of 28-year prison sentence with a minimum 21 year sentence which does not expire until 2041.
Witnesses saw him speeding through a red light, swerving anti-clockwise around a round-about, and driving at a maximum speed of 133km/h in a 50km/h zone before the crash.
Despite losing three children, when Ms Abdallah, 37, is asked how many kids she has, she always says seven – ‘three in heaven and four here’.
Despite losing three children, when Ms Abdallah, 37, is asked how many kids she has, she always says seven – ‘three in heaven and four here’ (pictured are her kids Antony, Angelina and Sienna)