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The Catholic Moment: Forty heroes’ flight of faith

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

By Scott Mussari

The number 40 has certain significance in the Bible. Forty days was the length of time Noah withstood the rains, Moses was up the mountain and Jesus was in the desert. Scholars believe the meaning behind the use of 40 is to symbolize a period of struggle and strife. This is exactly what the 40 women and men (seven crew members plus 33 passengers) of United Flight 93 experienced on Sept. 11, 2001.

It departed approximately 40 minutes late, and due to this delay those on board heard about the horrific tragedies that had occurred already in New York and Washington, D.C. It is estimated Flight 93 was airborne about 40 minutes when the hijackers stormed the cockpit and began forcing everyone to the rear of the cabin.

As the passengers and crew communicated via airfones to family, friends, operators and anyone they could contact, they collectively came to the conclusion the flight was on a similar mission of mass destruction. They resolved to bond together and demonstrated their true heroism.

A hero is defined as someone displaying courage and nobility. To be heroic is to willingly forgo one’s own security and safety to focus on helping another. It means to sacrifice one’s self for others.

The 40 heroes of Flight 93 did not decide to try to take back the plane because they thought it would be in their best interest or because they were filled with anger and hatred. They made their decision because they knew about the thousands of innocents killed in the other crashes, and they vowed to attempt to prevent further bloodshed.

Who were these heroes? They were simple, common folks. They were people pursuing their careers, like Toshiya Kuge, who was studying English at the University of Utah. They were volunteers, like Alan Beaven, who was preparing to leave for a four-year long sabbatical to serve at a foundation in Bombay, India.

There were pranksters such as Andrew Garcia, who balanced his joking nature with deep Christian values, and aggressors such as Marion Britton, who sometimes was not appreciated for her brashness. Their sports allegiances swung from Todd Beamer, who owned a Cubs’ pinball machine, to Louis Nacke II, who supported Pittsburgh teams.

They ranged from 29-year-old Deora Bodley to 79-year-old Hilda Marcin.

They were people constantly on the move like Mark Bingham, who overslept and only was able to make the flight because his buddy sped him to the airport. They were people of unhurried prayer like CeeCee Lyles, who after leaving a message for her husband on their home answering machine could be heard praying for her family, for herself and for the men who were hijacking the plane.

When 40 is referenced during difficult times in Scripture, it is always followed by a time of restoration. Creation began anew again after the flood, the covenant was renewed after descending the mountain and Christ was rejuvenated after leaving the desert. The Lord was present during and after these ordeals in the Bible and was there to provide strength to the 40 heroes throughout their time of trial in this one nation under God.

What sacrifices are we personally willing to make in our own faith stories, to be the heroes our Creator calls us to be?

Scott Mussari is the director of faith formation at St. Columban Church in Loveland and can be reached at smussari@stcolumban.org.

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