They say you need some distance to understand and gain perspective. Distance in time and space. Distance in time. They say that "time heals all wounds." Three years have passed. Time can surely help heal wounds. Things change, and life goes on. But healing of wounds? Some maybe. Certainly not all. The death of a child, the death of 60 children surely leaves deep wounds, scars that will and must remain forever.
Distance in space. They say that distance helps. I am now several thousand miles from Port Harcourt, in a new environment and new assignment. Distance does not and should not eliminate the grieving, the pain, the tears that still come. We adjust and change over time and space, but we cannot forget, and we dare not forget. We can and must continually re-member, that is, reflect, pray, and come together to remember December 10, 2005, the day that changed our lives forever.
Yet there are parts and pieces of that event that we do forget. Parts and pieces that are perhaps too painful to remember. And also other parts and pieces that are grace-filled and hope-filled that are important to remember.
That is why we are grateful to the Loyola Union for helping us through this book to remember the pain, the grieving, the loss, but also the beautiful faces, the loving tributes to our angels, and the new life that is still emerging from that day. This book describes how December 10th severely tested, and yet strengthened the three central virtues of those who believe in God, namely, our faith, our hope and our love. In many ways we have drawn closer to one another and to God. And we have committed ourselves to work for a better Nigeria, carrying on the work and dream of what our departed angels were not able to achieve because of their shortened life span.
Yes, we look back, and we also look to the present and future, guided especially by the memory of the sixty angels, by the presence of the families of those who lost their children, and by Kechi Okwuchi and her family.
As I recall December 10th, in addition to the sixty angels, let me recall one special person and one event. I cannot forget the powerful poster from the Funeral Mass at the parish of Mater Misericordiae – the 13 angels surrounding Fr. Aloysius Obi, C. Ss.P. I knew him in Port Harcourt. I knew him in Abuja. He had officiated at the wedding of some of the parents baptized several of the angels. By coincidence, or should we not say, by God’s inscrutable providence, he died with the angels, I am sure he was praying, absolving them as they landed but did not land. Fr. Obi, their priest, their chaplain, a great loss to the Church in Port Harcourt and Abuja, reminds us of all those, in addition to our angels, who died on December 10th.
The event I would like to recall took place on the tarmac at the airport in Port Harcourt, December 10, 2006, in the presence of Governor Peter Odili. After prayers and remembrances, the mothers of many of the deceased angels, women of great strength and faith and love, gathered in the center, led by Mary Nkanginieme. They sang strong, powerfully, and faith-filled, the hymn "How Great Thou Art." Tears flowed, a mixture of pain, love and hope. Many of those present, including the governor and his wife, moved to join the mothers and joined in the singing. A moment of grace!
May this book serve to remind us that the God’s grace and love, shown clearly in the Paschal Mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was at work then and continues to be at work. December 10th was our Good Friday. We too, now not three days, but three full years since December 10, 2005, pray and labor that we continue strong on the path to the new Easter where we rejoin our departed angels. As Loyola Jesuit College grows from strength to strength, and as Jesuit Memorial College begins to rise in Port Harcourt, we remember, and we re-commit ourselves to a better world, a safer Nigeria. This is the least we can do to honor the memory of the 60 angels.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.
Rev. Peter Schineller, S.J.