DUBAI // Maria Lourdes Varona, 30, fought back tears as she faced the congregation at St Mary's Catholic Church to mark the first anniversary of her mother's death.
"Our family would like to thank you for coming here today," said Lorna Lim Varona's eldest daughter with a quivering voice. "Although it has been a year, it's still painful...please help us pray for justice for our mum. Your presence means a lot to us.."
Friends, relatives and employees of the murdered Filipina businesswoman were attending a memorial mass in her honour.
Mrs Varona, 51, was found dead on August 31 last year, nearly a week after she was reported missing. She had been stabbed at least six times. Police found her body stuffed in a bag in the boot of her car, a green Jaguar S-Type, in Sharjah's Industrial Area 11.
"Even a year after my sister's death, many of our friends came to celebrate her life and death in this special mass," said Dr Lolita Lim, a dentist in Sharjah.
"It is not surprising that a lot of people fondly remember her and sympathise with us."
The one thing she regrets, she said, was not having spent more time with Lorna while in the UAE.
"We were busy with our respective careers," Dr Lim said. "She was very hands-on with her businesses and raised all her children well."
Lorna's husband, Pablo, said he was thankful beyond words for the show of support and love for his wife.He and youngest daughter Maria Liza, 25, arrived on Friday from Manila, where they had marked the anniversary of her death with sons Joseph Luke, 28, and Joseph Louis, 27, on August 26.
"I'm so happy to see my colleagues, our friends and family members today," Mr Varona said. "Our family is trying to move on but there's no justice yet a year after her death. "
He has attended hearings at Dubai courts since June. At the June hearing, prosecutors accused RA, 49, from the Philippines, of murdering Lorna because she was pressuring him to repay a debt. They said he stabbed her in the stomach and threw her through the window of a flat. He went downstairs and, finding her still alive, finished her off by stabbing her in the neck.
The accused initially denied killing Lorna but confessed after five hours of interrogation, police said. In court he denied a charge of premeditated murder.
The next hearing is scheduled for September 23, when the judge is expected to interrogate the forensic doctor and CID officers who handled the case.
Maria Liza said she was still struggling to move on a year after the tragedy. The support and words of comfort she got from her three siblings, she said, has helped her come to terms with their mother's death.
"It still hurts," she said. "We now often talk about good memories. We don't want to waste what our mother worked hard for so we're here handling the businesses she left behind."
Earlier this year, they sold two of their mother's four business interests. She and Maria Lourdes are both managing the travel agency and a general trading company their mother set up in Dubai.
At the mass, Father David Dominic said the occasion should be a celebration of Lorna's virtuous life on earth and her death.
"Let us pray for the repose of her soul," he said. "Let us reflect on the virtuous life that Lorna led."
Lorna's sister Lolita said Lorna left many happy memories.
"For the past week, I've been dreaming about her," she said. "They were all pleasant dreams."