Sometimes life brings tragedy. Pain and loss can surprise us, coming out of nowhere. In this lesson we will look at one tragedy that happened this past August. Even though this story is sad, it is a story that can help us. It can teach us joy and hope, even in the midst of suffering and tears.
A trip they were loving
It was a trip the girls had really been looking forward to, and were thoroughly enjoying. It was a week of being together as friends and seeing a different part of the country together. The trip was a big tradition in their high school, the Cumbres Institute in Santiago, Chile. Their favorite teachers came with them. They were on their last day.
They were returning to their hotel after spending the day at a national park. Since Chile has many mountains, the country roads can be dangerous and winding. This road was no exception.
Fr. Juan Aburto, a local priest who had happened to meet the girls at lunch, was driving home on the same road. He came around a bend and saw a big column of dust ahead of him. As he drew closer he realized that one of the buses carrying the girls had just gone off the road. What he found was tragic.
Apparently, the bus driver of that particular bus had tried to take a curve with too much speed. The bus had flipped over and was lying on its side on a steep hill. There had been 27 girls in the bus. Many of them had been thrown from the bus. Now some of them were strewn around the road or the hill. Some were crushed under the bus. Some were already dead. Some were dying. Some were trying to get up.
Fr. Juan immediately got out of the car and began ministering to the girls. He was in shock, yet he had to help them. He gave the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to the girls who had died and to those who were injured. He prayed with all the girls and consoled them. He was the first one on the scene and the last one to leave.
Faith amid tears
Yet, even Fr. Juan was impressed by what he saw in these girls. They all seemed more concerned about the others than about themselves. They were in tears and in pain, but they prayed and did all they could to help each other. They even managed to sing, in order to keep the more seriously injured girls from falling into unconsciousness before medical help arrived.
The news spreads
Nine girls died in the accident. All the other 18 girls on the bus were injured, some seriously.
News of the accident soon reached the families of the girls. The parents and the directors of the school, including the priest who was the school chaplain, immediately headed north to the place of the accident. Within hours they were there.
It was a tremendous tragedy for the families and the school, even for the country. These were girls in the prime of life. They were girls who were deeply loved by all around them, and were looking forward to a beautiful future.
Option to trust God
Yet, what began to surface was faith. As the parents and the directors of the school fought back tears, they drew closer together. They all shared a strong Catholic faith. They knew that somehow God could bring good out of this. They knew he was with them in this tremendously sad moment.
A human error caused this tragedy, yet instead of becoming bitter and vengeful the parents announced that they forgave the driver and did not want him to be burdened with their anger.
Help from high places
As news of the tragedy reached the President of the country, she decided to offer the presidential plane to fly both the parents and the bodies of the girls who had died back to Santiago, their home city.
At the airport
Early the next morning (5:00am) the parents met at the airport to receive the coffins containing their daughters’ bodies. The parents cried deeply as they received the coffins. One mother, as she stooped to kiss the coffin containing her daughter’s body, began to pray the Hail Mary out loud. This caused all the others to join in. As they waited for the plane to be prepared, they cried and prayed, and even sang several of their favorite hymns from Mass in the midst of their tears.
The journey home
At 7:00am the plane departed for Santiago. The pilot and crew were amazed at what they witnessed. Instead of despair and hysteria, there was tremendous peace.
When they arrived to Santiago, the whole city seemed to be waiting for them. Thousands of people were sharing their sorrow. As the procession of cars made its way through the city, people came out on the street to wave handkerchiefs and accompany them. There were billboards and posters that read: “May they rest in peace.”
Receiving their friends
Back at the school, the students, relatives and friends had been holding a prayer vigil since the previous afternoon. Students from many other schools came to join them.
At 7:00pm there was a Mass at the school in honor of the girls. It was held outside in the patio, since there were so many people. As the coffin containing the body of each girl was brought to the patio before Mass, a teacher described each girl and invited all those present to receive her. Everyone joined in applause for each girl. Joy mixed with sorrow. The joy came from knowing what wonderful girls had lived among them. The sorrow came from losing these good friends.
The official funeral Mass was held the next day, also at the school. More than six thousand people attended the Mass, including 59 priests and several bishops.
During the Mass two girls who had been in the accident read letters to their departed friends. They explained how sad they felt to have lost their friends, but in the midst of their sadness they were very happy, because they knew their friends had reached the greatest happiness. They were with God. They had arrived at their true goal.
Then they described the party that they imagined God was holding for each girl, a party tailored to the personality of each one of them.
Several of the girls present in the Mass were survivors of the accident and had literally postponed important operations on their own injuries in order to accompany their friends in their funeral Mass.
Friends and families also accompanied the girls to the cemetery. As the body of each girl was laid to rest, a small choir sang. The families knew they were not alone. Many others shared in their sorrow.
As the days pass, people continue to be touched by the story of these girls. We hope that this testimony can help all of us. Our faith does not take away pain and sorrow. But it does help us to see that God can draw good even out of sadness and evil. It helps us see that God accompanies us in our sorrow.
God knows and feels our sorrow. Jesus, true God and true man, has given his life to free us from sorrow. But this freedom is not yet complete in this life. Sorrow still accompanies us on our pilgrimage. But it is a sorrow filled with hope. Christ has brought us hope. He has opened up heaven for us. He has brought God to accompany us.
Who were the Chilean girls who died?
Bernardita Barros Vial
Bernardita was 16. She was from a large family: she had 12 brothers and sisters. She was a happygirl, known for being very spiritual and having a great desire to learn. She greatly enjoyed being with her friends, and also directed a group of younger girls who met regularly to discuss their faith and have fun together.
Along with several other friends, she had dedicated her past summer vacation to do missionary work: her two month mission trip was to Barcelona, Spain where she shared her faith with other teens and preteens. Her father is a famous lawyer in Chile.
Magdalena was 16. She had four brothers and sisters. She was known by all as being warm and spontaneous.
She had been very excited about this trip and had told her family many times how much she was looking forward to it. She was a top student whose favorite subject was history. She was planning on studying law in college. She had a strong faith and greatly liked participating in retreats, discussions, and faith activities with her friends.
Eloisa Garreud Sutil
Eloisa was 16. She especially enjoyed helping a group of younger girls in their faith. She called them her “little angels” and was sincerely committed to them. She often told those closest to her that she wanted so much to help her “little angels”get to heaven. She had spent her last school vacation in Mexico as a youth missionary.
She was active in student government and often ended up with the top academic rating in her class. She loved skiing, a favorite sport in Chile. According to those closest to her, Eloisa was seriously considering consecrating her whole life to God.
Elisa Contreras Searle
Elisa was 16. Elisa loved music and dancing. She had several relatives who are famous artists in Chile. She was also known by friends to be a generous person who was good at getting others to reconcile after a disagreement or discussion. She helped everyone to feel united and appreciated.
Trinidad De La Carrera Bezanilla
Trinidad was 16. She was from a large, sports-loving family. She was active in track and field and also competed in tennis on a national level. Those who knew “Trini” say she was a natural leader, active in her faith, exceptionally intelligent and passionate about everything she did.
Valentina Errazuriz Gandolini
Valentina was 15. She was class president. She loved skiing and track and field. She was an excellent student and had an A+ average. Everyone who knew her said she had a deep and lively faith. Like several other girls in her class, she ran a faith group for younger girls. She greatly enjoyed being with her friends, and, like her mom, had a great enthusiasm for art.
Maria De Los Angeles Costa Arteaga
Maria was 16. She She had four brothers and sisters. According to those who knew her, Maria was always more interested in others than herself. She was an energetic girl who greatly enjoyed art and was active in helping others through service projects and faith sharing.
Bernardita Valenzuela Prado
Bernardita was 15. Those closest to her describe her as fun to be around, sincere, and uncomplicated. “Berni” was a member of the Schoenstatt movement, a Catholic organization that promotes growth in the spiritual life, especially through devotion to Mary.
Magdalena Rodriguez Hermosilla
Magdalena was 16. She was the oldest of four children. She loved her parents very much, and especially admired her mom, who is an engineer. Magdalena was an excellent student, with a special talent for math. She wanted to be an engineer like her mom.
When Jesus saw her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35)
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live. (John 11:25)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Enlightened by faith, we look upon the human enigma of death with serenity and hope. Indeed, according to Scripture, it is more than an end; it is a new birth. (Benedict XVI, November 2, 2005)
Faith, brothers and sisters, invites us to raise our heads and look beyond, to look on high! And thus, today, while we mourn the departure of those who have left us, let us open our hearts to the vision of our eternal destiny. (Benedict XVI, April 3, 2005)
1002: Christ will raise us up “on the last day”; but it is also true that, in a certain way, we have already risen with Christ. For, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, Christian life is already now on earth a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ.
1007: Remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth…” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
1008: Death was contrary to the plans of God and entered the world on account of man’s sin. Bodily death is thus “the last enemy” of man left to be conquered.
1010: Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Saints & Heroes
Talking to Jesus about the hard things
St. Martha (entered heaven in the first century)
Martha was the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany (the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead – check out John Chapter 11 if you need to refresh your memory). She was the busy one who prepared the dinner while her sister sat lovingly at the feet of the Lord.
It’s a pity she is remembered almost solely for that incident, since she has much more to teach us. When Jesus came to speak with her after the death and burial of Lazarus, they had a conversation that shows how real, how human, how positively normal their friendship was.
Martha comes to him and expresses her regret that Jesus didn’t come in time to heal him. Then Jesus questions her, trying to stimulate her faith. She answers so simply, so honestly, so matter-of-factly, and yet her every word evinces reverence and respect.
Finally, our Lord elicits from her one of the most beautiful acts of trust in the entire Gospel. He tells her that he is the “resurrection and the life” and asks if she really believes it. She answers, “Yes, Lord, I have learned to believe that you are the Christ, you are the Son of the living God; it is for your coming the world has waited.”
Then her sister Mary has her own conversation with Jesus (in which he breaks down and cries for empathy with their sorrow): equally intimate, familiar, real, human.
Eventually, they take him to the tomb, and he orders the stone sealing the tomb to be removed, whereupon Martha whispers in his ear, “Lord, the air is foul by now; he has been four days dead.”
But Jesus gets his way, and ends up bringing Lazarus back to life.
The point here is not just the miracle, but the relationship that Martha had with Jesus. It was not abstract. It was not distant. It was not “saying the right thing” in order to impress him. They knew each other, respected each other, and interacted as true friends (though she never failed to show him the respect he deserved). She trusted him, could (and did) talk to him about anything – their conversation was heart to heart.
And that’s how your prayer needs to be: a personal, sincere, real conversation with the Lord. Therein lies your key to spiritual growth.
(Source: College Compass)
Winning hearts for Christ through suffering and generosity
St Martin de Porres (entered heaven November 3, 1639)
Martin was born in Peru, the son of a Spanish knight and a black woman (a former slave). From his childhood he was scorned for being mulatto.
Perhaps it was this experience that made him so sensitive to the message of Christ. He used to contemplate the crucifix with extraordinary love and devotion, deeply sorrowful at the suffering Christ had to endure, but deeply joyful that Christ had thereby penetrated our miserable lives with his grace and his love.
The only earthly thing Martin loved more than the crucifix was the Blessed Sacrament, which he tried to receive as frequently as possible, and which he often accompanied in prayer for hours on end, even entire nights. He was helped in this endeavor once he became a Dominican lay brother, where he served as community nurse and general caretaker of the Friary of Dominican priests in Lima
This deep appreciation for the sufferings and generosity of Christ was the motor of his own remarkable life. He spent every waking (and non-praying) hour caring for people in need, seeing in them the needy Christ, the souls for whom Christ had died. He cared for the sick Dominicans with the gentleness of a mother, and extended that service throughout the city.
He founded orphanages and hospitals, raised money to feed the poor, tended the maltreated slaves, and even took care of stray animals (he kept a “cats’ and dogs’ home” at his sister’s house) – though his Dominican brothers considered his attentions towards the rats and mice a bit exaggerated.
He truly considered others to be God’s children, and himself to be their less worthy brother. It was with this absolute humility, which overflowed in tireless and selfless service, that he won countless hearts to God – and that was his greatest joy.
(Source: College Compass)
- Have you ever been scared that sad things will happen to you or to those you love? What does your faith tell you about sadness and tragedy?
- Does sadness have the last word in the life of a Christian? If not, what has the last word?
- Where do you think the girls in the accident found the strength to avoid getting hysterical and to help each other when the accident happened? Is it easy to be strong when tragedy strikes? How does our faith help us to handle these moments?
- What virtues did these girls exercise in those moments? Do you think it came naturally to them? What things in their lives might have prepared them to handle this well?
- What do you think about the parents of the girls who died? Do you think it was right for them to forgive the driver? Do you think this was easy to do? What does it show about looking for true healing when tragedy strikes?
- Are Christians better at healing from tragedy than those who do not know the love of Jesus? Why or why not? How does knowing Christ help Christians to handle tragedy?
- Do you think Jesus really rose from the dead? Do you think you will rise from the dead at the end of history? Where will you be between the end of your earthly life and the end of history?
- Have you ever had any moments where you are really looking forward to heaven? What do you think the best thing about heaven will be? Do you know how Jesus describes heaven? Do you think heaven will be exciting?
- Visit someone who is sick or who has few friends during the Christmas season. Bring a small gift. Spend time talking with him or her and listening. Find something fun or entertaining to do with that person during your visit. Ask for some of that person’s prayer intentions and promise to pray for these. Afterwards, send a short note thanking that person for his or her time and mentioning something you learned about him or her during the visit.
- Visit a cemetery and pray a decade of the rosary for the souls who have died. Find the tomb of a young person and put a flower or something symbolic of your prayers there. (Note: There is a plenary indulgence for visiting a cemetery and praying for those who have died!)
- Write about the party God will have when someone you really love arrives to heaven. What favorite things of that person will be there? What friends of that person should be there in a special way? What would you like to say to that person at that party? Think of something funny that you will give that person at that party.
- Think about what you would like people to say about you at your funeral. Make a list of virtues you would like to work on in order to become a person who shows your faith and values more in life.
- Write a list of things that remind you about the resurrection. These can be any happy things that have happened in your life, any beautiful circumstances you have experienced, any special moments with God or friends and family, or anything else you can think of. Write a letter to God thanking him for these moments and committing yourself to show a happier face to others, to have the face of someone who believes in the resurrection and believes that the good things in life don’t have to end. Make a resolution about something you will do each day to increase your faith in the resurrection and in heaven.
Debate (Choose one theme)
- Heaven is just a myth invented by people who can’t deal with reality.
- Christians are weak when it comes to suffering.
- This world would be better if people did not believe in God.
- God does not exist, because there is so much suffering in the world.
Accompany – go or be together with. As Christians, we know that Christ always accompanies us: “behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.” (28:20).
Appreciate – to recognize and be grateful for; be thankful for. Appreciation and thankfulness are key characteristics of Christian faith.
Committed – bind as by a promise; pledge; to give in charge or trust
Faith – 1. Trust in God; 2. Personal relationship with God; 3. Belief in what God has revealed; 4. Faith is a supernatural virtue (a supernatural power). It is a power or virtue given to us in baptism.
Forgiveness – , pardon, mercy. A Christian forgives because he or she knows that Jesus has first forgiven him or her.
Freedom – 1) or liberation from the control of some other person or some arbitrary power 2) a being able to act, move, use, etc. without hindrance or restraint.
Goal – object or end that one strives to attain; aim. Our true goal as Christians is to know, love, and serve God, and to be happy with him forever in heaven.
Happiness – Any contentment in possession of a good. The deepest happiness is found in possessing God and being loved by God. God has put the desire for happiness in the human heart in order to draw man to himself, the source of all love. God alone can fulfill man’s deepest desire for happiness.
Heaven – 1. Heaven is our true home. It is where we were meant to be, after this pilgrimage on earth. 2. Heaven is the place and state where we are totally united to God and completely experience the goodness and wonder of his love. It is where “he will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away.” (21:4)
Hope – 1. Trust in God; 2. Trust in God’s gift of heaven; 3. Trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness; 4. Trust that God wants the best for us, even in difficult circumstances.
Joy – 1. A state of happiness or fulfillment; 2. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is the result of seeing things from God’s perspective and doing things the way Christ would do things; 3. The highest and most complete joy of which we are capable is the joy of seeing and being with God.
Missionary – A person who is sent (by God and the Church) with the special task of telling others about God’s love. A missionary can go to another country, but all of us are called to be missionaries. We are called to be missionaries to our own friends, in our own schools, neighborhoods, and families.
Peace – One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Peace is tranquility of soul, flowing from awareness of God’s love and friendship.
Pilgrimage – 1. A long journey; 2. A journey made to a holy place or a journey made to draw closer to God.
Prayer – the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.
Reconcile – 1. To bring back together; 2. To win over again to a friendly attitude.
Sincere – without deceit, pretense, or hypocrisy; truthful; straightforward; honest
Sorrow – suffering caused by loss, disappointment, etc.; sadness, grief, or regret
Unite – 1. put or bring together so as to make one; 2. To bring together in a common cause