“For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on ISIS and on the whole world.”
Christina Shabo, 25, said these words from the main stage of the Knights of Columbus-sponsored Mercy Centre, held at Tauron Arena, which played host to 20,000 English-speaking pilgrims at World Youth Day in Poland. A refugee from Iraq who was born in a refugee camp in Turkey, she was the living embodiment of recent headlines and the Year of Mercy in flesh and blood to her contemporaries.
Talking with her after the event, I encountered the best kind of witness: an honest one. When she got to Krakow from Detroit, where her parents raised her, it was suggested she talk about forgiveness. She didn’t know if she could, admitting that forgiving the terrorist group known as the Islamic State is not something that comes easy for her. She’s had family members killed by Islamic militants, and anger and resentment are no strangers to her.
Have you heard “fake it until you make it?” she asks. That was her approach: take the anger to Jesus. He worked with her, on her.
This prayer she prayed — “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on ISIS and on the whole world” — is obviously adjusted from the Divine Mercy Chaplet that was given to St. Faustina in Krakow. Shabo said it was an inspiration given to her when praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
So she prayed it.
“Slowly, he did soften my heart, and kind of transform me.”
She prayed — and continues to — for those who do evil in the land her parents fled on dangerous roads while her mother was pregnant with her. She considers herself a “miracle baby.” Her young cousin, Rita, about 6 or 7 years old, she says, died on the journey from Iraq to Turkey, along with others.
Her uncle refused to bury Rita on the road and instead carried her body with them until they could have a more respectful burial.
And she reflects in gratitude: “Nothing good comes out of” anger. Transformed into “mercy and forgiveness,” on the other hand, “you see how fruitful that can be, even for yourself” and you find, she says, “you can’t stop doing it.”
The onstage testimony was a semi-last-minute development, and she hadn’t quite had the opportunity to think through the reality of speaking to so many. Where she really wanted to go to this summer was Iraq. Shabo does trauma counseling back in Detroit.
“I know how hurt and broken people can feel when they’re going through a crisis. And these peoples’ lives have been a crisis for the last two years. So its hard not to feel that I can take what I have and help them, because I’ve been blessed.”
She adds, “I feel like because that happened that I need to take what God has given me and give back to them.”
But her father was much more into Krakow than Iraq this summer. Her consolation was running into young pilgrims from Iraq who gave her an Iraqi flag. During our interview, she holds it tenderly while she clutches a pearl rosary from the Knights of Columbus. She had left hers back home, and a Sister of Life at the Mercy Centre had provided this one for her to use as a prayer aid and confidence builder.
“God works,” she says, in prayer.
And so she asks us to join her in praying for conversion from evil.
Whatever you think you’re powerless in the face of, remember this.
Take her word for it.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and co-author of “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” (OSV, $17.95).