NOTE FROM FR. JOE
“Can something good…”
I ask you to think about two Franciscan friars, and I doubt you met either one of them. In fact, one of them died on the 11th of September in the year 2001. His name is Fr. Mychal Judge, and he was baptized Robert Emmett Judge. He was a chaplain with the Fire Department of New York City, and he was one of the first people to die when terrorists turned passenger airplanes into missiles and flew into buildings where innocent people were working. There were four planes; 2 went into the two towers of the World Trade Center, a third plane flew into the pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There were 265 people on the four planes, over 2,600 people at the World Trade Center died and there were 125 fatalities at the Pentagon. Like many of you, I was alive at the time and watching the news. I thought for sure more planes would crash into the Sears Tower in Chicago, a large building in Denver or some other building. Maybe that would have happened, but all airports and air space over the United States were secured. Life in the United States was changed that day. I don’t know if you wondered, but I was curious about how many people worked in the World Trade Center on that day, and the answer is: 17,400 is the best estimate.
Since airspace over the United States was closed, planes flying to our country had to be rerouted and land in the nearest place they could find. In a small town in Nova Scotia called Gander, population 11,688. –roughly the size of Effingham – 38 commercial aircraft and 4 military aircraft landed in Gander. 6,500 passengers descended on several small towns. One small town had a population of 680 people, and these people cared for 90 passengers.
They were called “plane people.” And these people had no food, no shelter, no information. They had no idea what was going on. Today we experience “Shelter in Place.” These 6,500 people were stranded in place.
The people of Gander and surrounding towns took in the plane people and made them feel welcome. For five days they fed them and clothed them and took care of their needs as best they could. The plane people from all over the United States and beyond had found friends who cared.
This was good news for people, who needed to hear good news after their country was just attacked by terrorists. Something good could come from that evil event, and something good did.
Connected to the attack on the World Trade Center is the Tear Drop Memorial. Located across the river from Manhattan is Bayonne, New Jersey, and there you can see a ten story sculpture, in memory of the victims of the 9-11 attacks. 26 of the people, who died, were Russians.
This tear drop memorial has a 100 foot bronze tower that is split with a jagged opening, and in the middle hangs a 40 foot tall nickel plated tear drop.
The base of the monument has 11 sides, and these sides bear granite name plates of the people who died in the September 11th attacks and the 1983 World Trade Center bombing. Many people have never heard of the Tear Drop Memorial, which is a gift from the Russian people.
I mentioned two Franciscans. The first one is Fr. Mychal Judge, one of the earliest victims in the World Trade Center bombing in New York City. The second Franciscan name is: Brother John Sebastian Laird-Hammond. He is the first fatality in Washington, DC due to the corona-virus pandemic. He was 59 years old, and he was suffering from cancer. He belonged to the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land.
I found it interesting that with both the 9/11 attacks and the virus pandemic, that is presently afflicting people on a global level, Franciscans are present in some way.
If you would speak to any of the plane people who landed at the airport in Gander, you would likely be amazed at how grateful they are for the compassion and hospitality shown them. There is a Tony award winning musical about this very event, and it’s called “Come from Away.” Its theme is humanity and kindness.
Today we are fighting a different kind of enemy. The enemy today doesn’t commandeer passenger planes and crash them into buildings, killing thousands of innocent people. Our enemy today is a virus.
It is very democratic. It doesn’t care whom it afflicts, not caring whether a person is rich or poor; what color of skin the person has; male or female; religion or no religion – this enemy will attack anyone it has a chance to. We need to make sure we don’t give the enemy that chance. Let’s follow the advice of the medical professionals.
19 years ago Americans wondered if anything good could come from this unjustified attack on our country. The plane people found very friendly and hospitable people. Some good did come from evil.
We are in the Sacred Triduum, the holy three days. I think of our Blessed Mother standing at the foot of the cross, witnessing the cruel execution of her son. She might have asked: why? Why is my only son being whipped and nailed to a cross to die? Can any good come from this?
Today we know that Good Friday is not the final chapter. Easter comes very soon after, and on that Easter morning Mary knew. She saw how Good Friday leads to the resurrection of her Son, Jesus.
We are Easter People. We live with hope and joy and trust. Will something good come from our Shelter in Place? I think so. We all hope so. Some good already has happened as families slow down their pace and get to know and grow in their love for God and for each other.