Federal Way, Wash., Apr 17, 2010 (CNA) - Mike Hemmer can’t remember the plane crash that left him critically injured last Lent, but he does recall the awe he felt when a priest anointed him a few days later in an Amsterdam hospital. “I remember just kind of an overwhelming feeling of wow, this is for me,” said Hemmer, who has always had a strong Catholic faith. “It was powerful.”
God’s grace has been evident in many ways for Hemmer, his wife Shirley, and their three children in the year since the 2009 Ash Wednesday crash that injured 86 and claimed the lives of nine people, including three of Hemmer’s Boeing colleagues sitting nearby.
The Hemmers, active members of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Federal Way, Washington, have been helped by countless earthly angels, starting with the medic who knew that Hemmer’s survival depended on being airlifted from the crash scene.
“If they hadn’t, he wouldn’t have made it,” Shirley Hemmer said.
In Amsterdam, a pair of Boeing employees took Shirley under their wing. Back home, people all over the Puget Sound area prayed for Hemmer’s recovery. Friends and family members stayed with the kids. And scores of people tackled household chores for the family.
No ordinary day
Shirley Hemmer remembers Feb. 25, 2009, starting as a typical weekday. Her teenagers, Jennifer and Eric, had left for school. Her daughter Abby, a student at St. Vincent de Paul School, was just getting up.
Mike, a Boeing test manager, was returning via Amsterdam from a business trip to Turkey. He was planning to pick up some tortellini for Jennifer’s 18th birthday celebration that night.
The family’s world changed when Shirley saw a TV report about a Turkish Airlines plane crashing short of the runway in Amsterdam.
“I knew it was his plane. Of course, I denied it at first,” Shirley said, checking Mike’s itinerary to be sure.
Shirley decided to stay home with Abby, and called St. Vincent School Principal Wanda Stewart to tell her what was happening. Stewart offered to send someone to be with Shirley.
“Within an hour someone was here,” Shirley said. “Just with that one phone call, I had the support. It was amazing.”
After a “roller-coaster” day, Shirley finally learned that night that Mike was alive, had undergone two surgeries and was lying unconscious in an Amsterdam hospital.
Mike had been sitting in the plane’s third row, in business class. The impact of the crash shattered his upper left arm and caused a compound fracture in his right forearm, broken bones in both legs, a broken nose, a fractured eye socket and two crushed wisdom teeth.
His survival “is truly a miracle,” Shirley said. “The other miracle is that he had no internal injuries, no spinal injuries and no brain injuries,” she said.
Feeling the support
Boeing flew Shirley to Amsterdam to be with Mike. For nearly five weeks, thousands of miles from home, the couple felt the love and concern sent their way. Hundreds of cards — including some made by Abby’s class — were sent to them.
“I would hear about what everybody was doing [back home] and I would be in tears,” Shirley said, overwhelmed by the number of people who wanted to help them.
Mike and Shirley flew home March 31, but Mike still had three weeks of recovery ahead at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way.
At the couple’s home, some 70 people — fellow parishioners, Boeing workers, neighbors, friends and Boy Scouts — pitched in as “Team Hemmer,” organized under the umbrella of Gloria’s Angels. The nonprofit organization assists families caring for a seriously ill relative. Volunteers made meals, cleaned house, did laundry and took care of the Hemmers’ yard throughout the spring and summer.
“It’s not in our nature to ask for help,” Shirley said. But as the Hemmers learned to accept the help they needed, they discovered the helpers also were enriched by the experience.
“People would come in to clean the house and say, ‘Thank you for letting us do this,’” Shirley said.
Mike’s fellow Knights of Columbus members decided to extend the home’s back deck and build a wheelchair ramp. When it turned out Mike wouldn’t need a ramp, the Knights enlarged the deck for the family to enjoy anyway. “It was just the type of thing that the Knights do,” Mike said.
Mike’s faith, upbeat personality and sense of humor have helped him through the difficulties of his recovery, including seven surgeries in Amsterdam and three more here.
“Knowing that I was going to come home and see the kids and that I would be able to enjoy life with them, I guess is probably what kept me going as much as anything,” he said.
The whole family drew strength from their faith and each other during Mike’s recovery.
“When we got back, everyone — whether it was teachers, friends or neighbors — just raved about how strong the kids were and what fortitude they showed,” Mike said. He attributes that to the foundation of faith they’ve received at home and by attending Catholic schools.
“Shirley’s always said that in our relationship, I’m the strong one,” Mike said. But through this crisis, “she has just been the absolute rock that’s kept the family together, that kept me together,” he said. “She’s so much stronger than she thought she could be.”
Today, Mike feels about 85 percent of his old self and hopes to be rid of his cane by summer. In everyday life, he’s “trying not to let the little things matter so much anymore. It really is a wakeup call to what’s really important,” he said.
The big question Mike contemplates is, “Why did I survive and what does God have in store for me?” He wonders if there’s something he’s supposed to do, and believes if God has a new purpose for him, “my life will be guided in that way.”
Shirley believes Mike’s survival has changed other lives.
“Two people said to us, I’m not a religious person, but when I heard about you, I hit my knees and started praying,” she said. An Anglican airport chaplain, who helped locate a priest and was present during Mike’s anointing, said “it was truly inspirational to see how much it meant to Mike to receive that,” Shirley recalled.
And when Mike returned to his job last fall, changes were evident there, too.
“At work, everything is so secular; you can’t even say Merry Christmas,” Mike said. As a manager, he said, there are two things you don’t do: talk about God or touch people. “Since I’ve come back, I’ve gotten more hugs, and more people that have told me they are praying for me,” Mike said.
“The outpouring of care and love that we’ve been shown is just truly overwhelming,” he said. “I see that as a sign of everyone else’s faith.”
Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Northwest Progress, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington.
Recife, Brazil, Apr 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -
After an interview with a Brazilian newspaper appeared to indicate he supported abortion, Archbishop of Olinda e Recife Fernando Saburido has said there was “a misunderstanding” and that he may have been insufficiently clear. He said he fully adheres to Catholic teaching that life is a “gift from God.”
Last year the then-archbishop of his diocese, Jose Cardoso-Sobrinho, said that anyone who performed or facilitated an abortion would incur an automatic excommunication. Archbishop Sobrinho's remarks came in response to the case of an abortion performed on a nine-year-old pregnant with twins after being raped by her mother’s companion.
Recently a forced abortion was performed on a 10-year-old girl, who became pregnant after being raped by her stepfather.
Archbishop Saburido responded to the new case by reiterating Catholic teaching that life must be defended at all points. However, during an interview with a local Brazilian newspaper, Diario de Pernambuco, he appeared to imply that abortion was permitted if deemed necessary by a physician.
In a statement provided to CNA, Archbishop Saburido said there was a “misunderstanding.”
“I adhere, in fullness; to the teaching of our Holy Church which defends life and does not admit, under any circumstances, its destruction because it is a gift from God that only He can take away,” he explained.
Noting that there are some specific cases in Brazil in which abortion is not penalized, he said: “With the Church, I believe that this law is contrary to the basic principles of Christian ethics and cannot be accepted, because it is a law that kills.”
He said he disagreed with the case of the pregnant girl, saying he believes it to be “anti-Christian for taking away a life that could have perfectly been saved.”
“A family willing to adopt the baby would have not been missing, providing affection and dignity,” he continued.
He said his comments to the press corps on April 10 would verify his position against abortion in any circumstances.
“In the specific case of the Diario de Pernambuco, I believe the interview was biased, with repetitive questions, and I admit I may have not been sufficiently clear, leaving room for doubts that I want to clarify by means of this statement,” he continued.
“I believe that all those who know me and know my history, will never have doubts regarding my love for the Church and my fidelity to her Magisterium,” Archbishop Saburido’s statement concluded.
Mogadishu, Somalia, Apr 17, 2010 (CNA) - All but two of Mogadishu’s 13 radio stations have silenced their music programming under orders from the Islamic insurgents, including the militant groups The Shebab and Hizbul-Islam.
Even the musical jingles played before news, education and other programs were banned. In addition, bells in schools were ordered shut down under the pretense that they sound similar to church bells.
"The bell they ring to summon students for classes is illegal in Islam. We know that ringing bells is a sign of the Christian churches," Sheik Farah Kalar, senior Shebab official, told reporters in Jowhar.
The stations said they had to comply with the ban or put their lives at risk, according to the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA).
Islamist militants control large parts of Somali territory. The transitional government (TGF), backed by African Union troops and U.N. funds, controls only a small part of Mogadishu, the capital.
Abdulahi Yasin Jama, head of radio Tusmo, said that instead of music they are using other sounds such as gunfire, the noise of vehicles, and birds as a break between programs and news. Sounds of chicken or horses have also been used.
TGF Information Minister Dahir Mohamud Ghelle called the music bans an abuse of freedom of the press. He invited affected broadcasters to set up stations in areas controlled by the TGF.
Vatican City, Apr 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the Pope was preparing to leave for Malta Saturday afternoon, an outline of his schedule for the coming five months was released by the Vatican. Peppered among the four trips the Holy Father is scheduled to make by the end of September are a number of other events in Rome and the surrounding area.
The month of May will see the Holy Father in Turin to meet with the faithful and to venerate the Shroud (May 2) which is on temporary exposition. A pastoral visit will be made to Portugal from May 11-14, during which time he will be in Lisbon, Oporto and Fatima. Planned festivities include celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco Marto. Later in the month, on May 23, he will preside over Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on Pentecost Sunday.
In June, in addition to his trip to Cyprus (June 4-6) to present the Instrumentum Laboris for the October's Special Synod for the Middle East, the Pope will preside over six other celebrations, according to the official agenda. Among the most notable of these are a prayer vigil and Mass with priests taking part in the International Theological Convention for the conclusion of the Year for Priests (June 9-11) and a Mass for priestly and deaconate ordinations for the Diocese of Rome (June 20).
July and August have only one announced event each. On Sunday, July 4 the Holy Father will make a Pastoral Visit to Sulmona, Italy, in the Abruzzo region, to celebrate the 800th year since the birth of Pope St. Peter Celestine V. The local parish of St. Thomas of Villanova will host Pope Benedict on August 15, where he will preside over Mass.
During the month of September, he is planning one local and one international visit. On Sept. 5, Benedict XVI will go to Carpineto Romano, about 60 miles southeast of Rome, in observation of the 200th year since the birth of Pope Leo XIII. Later, from the 16-19 of the same month, he will travel to Great Britain to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, spending time in England and Scotland, where he will meet with Queen Elizabeth II.
Rome, Italy, Apr 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Jesuit Cardinal Tomas Spidlik of the Czech Republic died on Friday evening in Rome at the age of 90. The prelate, who was remembered by the Holy Father affectionately on Saturday, leaves a legacy of publications and work to promoting unity between eastern and western Christians.
In his long life, the cardinal was a professor, theologian, writer and academic, who was also involved in radio. According to a biography from the Centro Aletti, a John Paul II inaugurated center founded within the Pontifical Oriental Institute to promote Christianity in Eastern Europe, Cardinal Spidlik had an extraordinary ability to engage an audience and made great steps to developing eastern Christian spirituality.
The "Centro," of which he formed a part, describes him as "one of the greatest experts of the spirituality of eastern Christianity today."
In a telegram to Superior General of the Jesuits on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the "strong emotion" he felt upon learning of the cardinal's "pious departure."
It was "with profound gratitude," the Holy Father wrote, that he recalled the "solid faith, paternal affability and the intense cultural and ecclesial industriousness" of the late cardinal, especially regarding his great knowledge of eastern Christian spirituality.
Cardinal Spidlik was also remembered for his work in promoting cooperation between Christians and leaders from the East and West by Vatican Radio on Saturday morning. Their report underlined his work for a spiritually united Europe, the "two lungs" that John Paul II described as essential to the vitality of the Church.
The Holy See's radio station was particularly close to him, and he to it, as he had spent a half-century working with their Czech transmissions.
Just recently the Holy Father thanked the The cardinal for his legacy.
Exactly four months ago today, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation to Cardinal Spidlik personally during a Mass to celebrate his 90th birthday. He said during the homily that the cardinal's "long life and his singular walk of faith are testimony of how God guides whomever entrusts himself to Him."
Remembering the "rich" thought of the cardinal, the Pope praised the "ardor and deep conviction" with which he announced the centrality of the Triune God and man's communion with him through freedom and love.
He added that Cardinal Spidlik possessed a "vivacious and... original theological vision" which was able to bring eastern and western Christians together, “reciprocally exchanging their gifts."
The funeral ceremony for the cardinal will be held next Tuesday at St. Peter's Basilica. Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, will preside over the Mass together with other cardinals. Following the Eucharistic celebration, Pope Benedict XVI will make an address and officiate at the Ultima Commendatio and the Valedictio.
According to L'Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Spidlik leaves behind a bibliography of over 600 articles and 140 volumes.
Rome, Italy, Apr 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - As he prepared to depart from Italy's Fiumicino airport for his Apostolic Journey to Malta, the Holy Father sent a telegram to the President of the Republic of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. He took the opportunity to inform him of the "providential occasion" of his visit to Malta and to greet all Italians.
The Holy Father departed for Malta at 3:25 p.m. local time, unhindered by the cloud of volcanic ash that had interrupted flights in northern Italy since Saturday morning.
Pope Benedict wrote that as he prepared to carry out his pilgrimage to Malta he wished to give a "cordial greeting" to President Napolitano and the entire nation of Italy. He added that the telegram was accompanied with his great hope for the "spiritual, civil and social progress" of the country.
In the short telegram, he welcomed the "providential occasion" of the pilgrimage to Malta as an opportunity to visit the historic place where the apostle Paul once was shipwrecked and meet with representatives of the Maltese people. He especially welcomed the chance to be with "brothers and sisters in the faith."
The Holy Father will be in Malta from Saturday afternoon until late Sunday. He was scheduled to arrive at 5:00 p.m. local time.