Everyone has heard of the heroism of Fr. Mychal Judge, seen the 9/11 World Trade Center cross created from the rubble of one of the fallen towers. In the days following 9/11 though, Catholic Answers heard of another inspiring story of faith in the midst of despair. The story was told on our radio show, Catholic Answers Live, during the week following 9/11, but it may well be forgotten by many at this point. For me, however, it was the one bright light of those awful days and I will never forget. Let me share the story with you.
A couple of days after the attacks, a pilot sent an email to Catholic Answers telling of the story of his friend, one of the pilots of one of the flights that hit the World Trade Center. (Note: To preserve privacy, I am withholding identifying details, but I remember that Catholic Answers' staff member, Jimmy Akin, verified the details at the time before the story was shared on-air. I also looked up the name of the deceased pilot online to refresh my memory of this story before writing.)
This pilot wrote to tell us that it was procedure at his airline for pilots to be paired for flights for a month at a time. Some months before 9/11, he had been paired with one of the fallen pilots of 9/11. During their month together in the cockpit, they got to chatting. They discovered that they shared a Catholic background, but Catholic Answers' friend and listener discovered his colleague had fallen away from his Catholic faith. He felt he was not being "spiritually fed" and eventually became an Evangelical. So, the two had friendly conversations about the Catholic faith. The Catholic pilot brought in Catholic Answers materials for his friend and did his best to answer questions. After the month was up, they sometimes saw each other in airports and caught up. The fallen-away Catholic expressed a desire to return to his faith, but his wife was reluctant.
Fast-forward to 9/11. The Catholic pilot learned that one of the pilots on one of the WTC flights had been his friend. He was grief-stricken. And he couldn't help but wonder if his friend had managed to fulfill his desire to return to the Church. Since all flights were grounded that week, the Catholic pilot had nothing to do but watch news reports. He happened to channel-surf onto a news station he rarely watched and noticed a profile of his friend. He stopped to watch.
In the course of the profile, the news station cut to the fallen pilot's home to show how his family was coping with their tragedy. The place was FILLED with priests who had come to comfort the fallen pilot's wife and their children. He had managed to come home to the Church—just in time. And, I also firmly believe, he managed to let his friend know that he had come home, thanks in part to their conversations.
If the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour (Luke 12:39–40).
(Image: World Trade Center memorial, Pixabay.)