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Strangers pray for Youssif at beach

  • Story Highlights
  • At Youssif's first beach trip, strangers gather around him and pray
  • His mom weeps: "Here in America, people were moved by him. Why not in Iraq?"
  • Youssif shrieks with joy as waves lap at this feet
  • Mom: "He's happy"
  • Next Article in Living »
By Arwa Damon
CNN
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Editor's note: CNN agreed not to use the full name of the family due to concern for their safety.

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A group of Christians -- fathers with their children -- circled Youssif and his dad to pray.

MALIBU, California (CNN) -- "Hey, that's the boy I just saw on TV!" a voice shouted out from the beach.

Unaware, Youssif streaked past, little legs pumping as fast as they could across the sand, coming to a screeching halt a few feet away from the waves breaking at the shore.

Frightened and excited, the 5-year-old Iraqi boy shrieked and laughed as his father lifted him to safety as each wave crashed around their legs. It was the first time either of them had seen the ocean.

The "voice" belonged to a member of The Church at Rocky Peak from nearby Chatsworth -- having a father and child day at the beach.

"We'd like to pray for Youssif and his family. Can you ask if they will accept this?"

The reply: "Of course," said Youssif's mother, Zainab.

The group of Christian fathers and children surrounded the boy and his dad, falling to their knees and locking arms. Youssif and his father stood at the center of the circle holding hands. Video Watch Youssif being happy again »

"They are going to need strength and patience, and God, just put your hand on little Youssif and his family," one of them said, head bowed in prayer.

They continued to pray for the boy, his family and even for forgiveness of his attackers.

Other beachgoers witnessed the scene, joined in and dropped to their knees -- more than 30 people in all. It was nine months ago to the day that Youssif was savagely attacked -- set ablaze by masked men near his Baghdad home.

Watching the scene, the outpouring of warmth from total strangers, Zainab wept, tears running down her face.

"I was overcome with emotion," she said later. "Here in America, people were moved by him. Why not in Iraq?"

The group broke, with pats on the back for Youssif's father and hugs for the little man himself, who took advantage of a break in the crowd to make another dash for the ocean. Laughing, his parents chased him.

Watching her son in his little Spiderman swim trunks scream and play in the sand, Zainab couldn't stop smiling at his transformation.

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"Back there [Baghdad] we'd try and talk to him, he wouldn't talk to us," she said. "He was upset all the time, 24 hours a day. He would say it himself: 'I'm upset.' Now, he's happy."

"He's happy," she repeated again in English, dissolving into laughter. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Wayne Drash contributed to this report.

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