Their love goes beyond any religious or cultural affiliation. She is Christian. He is Muslim. She is from Rome. He is Lebanese. But it was love at first sight. They waited ten years, often in fear. But they prayed to, and had faith in, the one God. And the strength and sincerity of their love both rewarded and consoled them.
They met at the end of August 1992, on a flight from Beirut to Rome. He had a student visa for Italy. She had been attending a group of the Equipe Notre Dame Movement, led by a Lebanese priest. Both of them were in their twenties, and both were secretly hoping they would soon meet the right person, to love for life.
The prison of stigma
Mustapha Hussein lived in a mixed neighbourhood of Muslims and Christians in Tripoli. He came from an open Muslim family and, as a child, he made friends easily with everyone, and without distinction. The word ‘free’ was one he used often, along with his companions, and his parents. Simona experienced more difficulty when she tried to get her friendship with Mustapha accepted. Her family was afraid of Muslims: they were prisoners of stigmas handed down from generation to generation. Even when a religious friend of Simona vouched for her young friend’s goodness and integrity, her mother was not convinced. “With my mother the battle was painful”, she says, “it distanced us, it made us lose so much time and so much energy. Her greatest fear was that I might be forced to abandon my religion and even my studies”. This rigidity on the part of her mother was partly due to unresolved issues in her own life’s story: Simona’s mother had suffered a lot because of cultural differences and loneliness, after she married and moved to Rome from southern Italy, years ago.
Praying together is possible
Mustapha always lived his love for Simona with patience and confidence: “I was sure the nonsense would not have the last word”, he says. “Of course, I felt uncomfortable when I went to her house for the first time. I felt under the spotlight. Our strength was our love”. Paradoxically, Simona realized that Mustapha was stronger, even more mature, than she was. “Through him, I saw Jesus”, she says. “It was surprising. He was more Catholic than I am!”. Simona showed great sensitivity when, in Lebanon, during their engagement, Mustapha’s uncle died. She found she was the only Western, Christian, woman at the funeral. She struggled to show her closeness to the pain of the family’s loss. Then she spontaneously took out her Rosary and began to pray. “My grandmother still remembers that scene”, says Mustapha, describing it as a happy memory.
“Simona has transmitted her attachment to the faith to me. She always repeats that God is love. I find this thing increasingly fascinating, it’s beautiful. I have explored the foundations of the Christian faith. I go with her to Mass. I feel her faith. Despite everything”. Simona describes their spontaneous prayers, or their shared reading of the psalms: “The impressive thing is to experience that the Holy Spirit blows where He wills, and there really is no barrier to contain Him. No one else but the Spirit could have induced him to behave so perfectly and in such accordance with the teachings of Jesus. Love has no boundaries. I am convinced of that. What also helped us was his great curiosity”.
Integration beyond discrimination
“I have come to realize that those who seek peace actually find it”, says Mustapha. “For years I attended an Ignatian spiritual journey group, where Simona had found orientation. The group welcomed me and always made me feel at ease”. “For me it wasn’t really so difficult to integrate myself, more so from the bureaucratic point of view. I went to play basketball with the Jesuits of the International College in Rome. Playing the game, we were fair and trustworthy. This made us think we could be the same in our everyday lives, regardless of who we were and where we came from”. There are also less pleasant memories of more bitter experiences, like that at a television channel: “Unfortunately, I must confess I was not treated well. It was a very closed environment. There was a lot of discrimination at work, and it was very bad. Precisely because I was married to a Christian, I was considered like a foreign body that didn’t fit in”.
Persevering, without resentment
They put everything back into God’s hands. Then they decided to marry in church, with different rites and in mutual respect. “I underwent the interviews planned for the preparation of the marriage,” says Mustapha. “I felt put to the test, I had the impression that sooner or later I would give in”. That is not what happened. In the end, it was the mother of his fiancée, Grazia, who gave in. “I couldn’t have imagined it, yet she came to think of me as her adopted son. I never held a grudge. That was crucial”.
Source: Vatican News / Author: Antonella Palermo