Some 1,500 people packed St. Timothy Catholic Church in Chantilly, Sunday afternoon, for a memorial service for Westfield High grad Reema Samaha. The service was beautiful, but the most poignant moments came afterward, outside in the courtyard.
That’s where family and friends of the 18-year-old dancer, college student and aspiring urban planner shared tender and intimate stories about the girl they loved who was taken from them too soon.
“OUR HEARTS are still reeling in brokenness,” said a family cousin, Dr. Lisa Samaha. Reema, her brother and mother were with this cousin last summer in the family’s native Lebanon during a war there and had some anxious moments before they were able to return to the U.S.
“How ironic that we came home from terror only to find violence in our own backyard and the sanctity of the classroom violated,” said Lisa Samaha.
Reema, of Centreville’s Sully Station community, was one of 32 people killed last Monday, April 16, on the campus of Virginia Tech by deranged student, Seung Hui Cho. He, too, was a Westfield grad and Centreville resident and ultimately took his own life, as well.
Yet Sunday, even in the midst of his own, excruciating grief, Reema’s father, Joseph Samaha, showed grace, class and compassion as he explained to the crowd the meaning of the Samaha name.
“Reema’s last name means forgiveness,” he said. “And on behalf of our family, we express our sincere condolences to the families of the other Virginia Tech students and professors who died — and also to the Cho family and members of the South Korean community. They, too, have lost a son. May God hold them tightly in his embrace.”
Earlier, sunlight from the skylights in St. Timothy’s soaring ceiling shone upon the altar as vocalist Nicholas Horner sang “Ave Maria” to begin the memorial service. Then Father Joseph Francavilla of Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church in McLean performed his sacred duties — but with a heavy heart.
“On Nov. 6, 1988, I gave Reema the gift of Baptism … as a promise of life everlasting,” he said. “It is sad for all of us to take someone so young and have them laid to rest. It is never easy as a priest who also happens to be a friend of the family; I performed the wedding of Reema’s parents.”
Francavilla said prayer distinguishes man from every living creature on earth and that Eastern Christians focus on “the living Christ who gives ultimate meaning to the lives we live.” And he asked God to be compassionate and merciful to Reema.
“WHAT BETTER place to be than in the hands of the God that loves us?” asked Francavilla. “We ask that God give her rest among the saints. [And] we ask all of you to remember Reema when you pray — that He will take her with Him on the last day to enter glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit.”
“Blessed Are You, O Lord, Our God” was sung a capella while the entire church stood. Then Francavilla held a candle aloft while beseeching God to “Let [Reema] rest in a place of peace where there is no pain or grief or sorrow.”
He also asked all those attending to eat a bite of bread in memory of Reema, “who we have commended to our Lord,” as they left the church. Horner sang, “On Eagles’ Wings,” and then the 23rd Psalm was recited.
Outside, family and friends gathered again by blossoming trees under a blue sky in 75-degree weather. Virtually everyone who'd been inside the church remained.
Reema's uncle, Dr. Richard Samaha, said he and his wife Christine were "privileged to be chosen by Reema's parents to be her godparents." Another uncle, Thomas Fadoul, said Reema and his daughter Adrienne were only a few months apart in age and were "more like twin sisters" than cousins.
Adrienne then read an ee cummings poem in which he wrote, "i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) i am never without it," to express her feelings for her cousin. "The bond I share with Reema is unique," she said. "We've always felt our hearts in each other's."
Recalling the happy times they'd spent together snow- and waterskiing, playing paintball and doing other activities, Adrienne Fadoul said the violence that claimed Reema's life left her "devastated, scared, lost, shocked and angry."
She said Reema taught her to dance and they spent countless hours before mirrors choreographing dances together. "Her energy, passion, humor and love of live unfolded every day in her dance," said Fadoul. "She projected hope that one day the world would be at peace together."
Even when Reema had a health emergency last year with her lungs, said Fadoul, "She consoled us. She had a quick sense of humor and could always take any tense situation and lighten the mood."
"Her time on earth was far too short," she continued. "But her energy, peace and love of life lives on in me. And in her undying memory, I, too, shall dance through life — and I hope you do, too."