Richard Phillips.jpgAt another U.S. parish, this time in Vermont, there is rejoicing over the dramatic and traumatic conclusion of the hostage ship captain held for five days by Somali priates. Richard Phillips (at right, with the captain of the USS Bainbridge) was rescued unharmed as three of the four priates were shot and killed by Navy Seal snipers. The fourth Somali kidnapper was arrested. Phillips had offered himself as a hostage to the pirates who tried to seize the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama April 7 in the Indian Ocean, in exchange for releasing the crew. As CNS reports:

“We’re so happy that it turned out the way that it did,” said Donna Schaeffler, secretary of St. Thomas Church in Underhill Center, Vt., the parish where Phillips, 53, and his wife, Andrea, regularly attend Mass.

“There is so much media here and we’re trying to give the Phillipses their privacy, but we’ve been praying at Mass for his safe release,” Schaeffler told Catholic News Service April 13 in a telephone interview.

“Our pastor (Father Charles R. Danielson) also asked everyone to pray for the Phillipses during the Easter morning Mass. We were just so happy to hear the news of his rescue later in the day,” she said.


“It’s been a real eye-opener, I’ll tell you that,” Father Danielson told CNS in a telephone interview. “An event like this really humanizes the news. It really brings home that the faces of people in the news belong to real human beings. It’s someone in your parish, in your community, and we’re hoping and praying for the best.”

The ordeal has also shown the priest, who has been pastor of St. Thomas since last July, that he has a faith community of people who really care about one another, pray for each other and band together in difficult times.

A little-noticed aspect of the saga also reinforces those bonds, in a parish and in the wider, global community: The ship the priates tried to hijack was carrying tons of food from Catholic Relief Services that is destined for Rwanda:

Forty-nine containers aboard the ship hold 860 metric tons of bulgur wheat that are to be used by CRS relief workers for some of the poorest populations in Rwanda.

The wheat will feed 8,000 of that country’s neediest people through two programs. One targets 5,600 of those considered most vulnerable — people living with AIDS, orphans and those identified as significantly malnourished — living in the southern district of Rwanda, one of its poorest areas.

The other program feeds 2,400 people throughout the county who receive food at safety net centers such as orphanages, old age homes and homes for the handicapped.

The wheat on board the hijacked vessel is a six month supply for the programs. CRS hopes that the ship will now be able to make its way to its destination of Mombassa, Kenya as any interruption of the food supply for these vulnerable Rwandans could be critical to their health.

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