Sometimes, the best stories come from unexpected moments of inspiration. Recently, I had a unique experience attending Mass at St. Columba in Columbia. Originally, I hadn't planned on going there; the church I regularly attend had canceled the early Mass for the summer. At the same time, I was struggling to find a topic for this month's Four County Catholic article. Writer's block had hit me hard, and the deadlines were looming. During the Communion meditation, something remarkable happened. My eyes caught sight of a large plaque on the wall listing the corporal works of mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless . . . before I could finish reading the list, the words of the Communion meditation song captured my attention:
'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise
In that moment, it all clicked! The sights, the sounds and my frustrations about attending an unplanned Mass merged. What I thought was an inconvenience turned out to be a blessing. The song served as a powerful reminder to trust in God's providence, even when life's circumstances seem confusing, and to find gratitude and hope amidst life's trials.In that moment, the writer’s block lifted, as I remembered another group of people who also experienced an unplanned inconvenience and the blessings that followed.
BLESSINGS COME THROUGH RAINDROPS
Those of us who are old enough can remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. The tragic events of that day and the weeks to follow are etched forever in the annals of history, as well as our memories. However, amid the horror and chaos, a remarkable tale of human compassion and selflessness unfolded in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. The incredible connection between the events in Gander and the Gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us of the enduring power of love, empathy and the innate goodness of humanity in the face of adversity.
GANDER'S HOSPITALITY AND SELFLESSNESS
On that fateful morning, when the skies were closed to air traffic, Gander International Airport became a beacon of hope for thousands of stranded
passengers whose flights were diverted. In the face of uncertainty and fear, the people of Gander opened their hearts and homes to complete strangers. They selflessly provided food, shelter and comfort to more than 6,600 passengers from around the world, regardless of race, religion or nationality.
We didn't think twice about helping them. It was just what needed to be done. They were scared and far away from home, so we wanted to make them feel welcomed and safe,” said one Gander resident.
Jesus taught His followers to love their neighbors as themselves, to feed the hungry and to offer shelter to the homeless. The actions of the people of Gander align closely with these teachings, exemplifying the true essence of the Gospel.
"THE PEOPLE OF GANDER WERE LIKE SUPERHEROES WITHOUT CAPES. THEY TURNED A TERRIFYING EXPERIENCE INTO A REMINDER THAT THERE’S GOODNESS IN HUMANITY.”
SACRIFICE AND SERVICE
Throughout that week in September, the residents of Gander put their lives on hold to serve others. They worked tirelessly, often going beyond their means to ensure that the stranded passengers felt welcomed and cared for. Bus drivers, teachers, business owners and individuals from all walks of life collaborated to meet the needs of the passengers, exhibiting extraordinary acts of sacrifice. “We canceled our plans and put aside our worries to focus on helping these strangers. It was an opportunity to show the world what true hospitality means.”One “come from away” passenger, the name given to the diverted travelers, said, “The people of Gander were like superheroes without capes. They turned a terrifying experience into a reminder that there's goodness in humanity.”
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
In a world often divided by differences, the events in Gander brought people together, transcending cultural, religious and national boundaries. The passengers, who represented diverse backgrounds, found solace in the hospitality of the Gander residents. Prejudices dissolved and friendships formed in the midst of the crisis. The Gospel stresses the importance of breaking down barriers and embracing unity. Jesus preached about loving one's enemies, praying for those who persecute you and accepting all as children of God. The events in Gander resonate with this message, illustrating the transformative power of love in unifying humanity.
HOPE IN DARKNESS
The acts of kindness and compassion in Gander became a ray of hope amidst the darkness and devastation of September 11. The passengers, witnessing the genuine goodness of the Gander community, found solace and comfort during those trying times. The town's hospitality left an indelible mark on their hearts, and many vowed to pay it forward in their own lives.
THE RIPPLE CONTINUES
In the two decades since Sept. 11, 2001, the impact of Gander's hospitality continues to resonate globally. The selflessness displayed by its residents towards more than 6,600 stranded passengers has sparked an inspiring chain reaction of kindness. Recipients of this unparalleled generosity, the “come from away” passengers, have embraced the spirit of Gander's compassion, raising more than $50 million for various charitable causes. Beyond monetary contributions, they've become advocates for social justice and community development, breaking barriers and fostering unity. On March 17, 2017, the Broadway musical “Come from Away” opened on Broadway. It closed in 2022. However, if you have Apple TV+, you can stream this award-winning and powerfully moving musical.
WHAT IF THE TRIALS OF THIS LIFE ARE GOD’S MERCIES IN DISGUISE?
As we remember the tragic events of September 11 and the days that followed in Gander, let us also remember the many other acts of kindness and compassion that took place here in this country and abroad. May we draw inspiration from these examples and strive to embody the teachings of Jesus in our own lives fostering a world built on love, empathy and understanding. In doing so, we honor the memory of those lost on that fateful day and create a legacy of hope and unity for future generations.
BY WAYNE GIGNAC communications director for the Diocese of Norwich and executive editor of Four County Catholic.