Imagine being the mother of 10 children – ages 1 to 15 – and losing your firefighter husband during the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. What good, you might ask, could possibly come from that?
During his September 23 keynote address at the World Meeting of Families, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, answered that question with a touching and memorable story about the “heroic witness” of one “very Catholic” family who brought “light to the greatest darkness.”
Here we share that story and what the Cardinal said we might learn from this in an address titled “The Light of the Family in a Dark World.”
The morning of 9/11, Jean Palombo, the mother of this large family, woke up worried that she might be pregnant yet again. “It can’t be happening so soon,” she thought. “I’ll go crazy.”
When she confided her worry to her husband Frank, he said, “Don’t worry about that – but what will we call him?”
“I started to laugh,” Jean said. “He always knew how to make me laugh.”
Jean’s laughter was temporarily quelled that day when her brave firefighter husband lost his life along with almost 3,000 other victims of the worst terror attack ever perpetrated on U.S. soil.
In an interview about two months after the tragedy, the Cardinal said this woman talked about her life’s journey to date. As a young woman, Jean said she had left the Church and decided she did not want any children.
However, after experiencing a missionary outreach, something changed. Jean witnessed Christ in a couple expecting their fourth child. After experiencing God’s love through this couple, Jean changed in a radical way, going on to have 10 children.
Of her husband’s death, the woman said, “I miss him terribly and I cry a lot, but I know he will continue to bless us in heaven. I think God works for the good of those who love Him. The children often console me with a word.” (Thank God for those children!)
When asked what she thought of the terrorists, she said, “I can only say, ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they have done.’”
During the interview, the Cardinal said that Jean acknowledged her fear, but said she was clinging to the Church and trying to do God’s Will.
Said the Cardinal: “Five years ago, Jean, already a young widow with 10 children, was diagnosed with cancer. She died two years ago. Her eight sons carried her coffin into the Basilica of the Sacred Heart where there were 200 people and 30 priests.”
At the funeral, a neighbor was struck by the demeanor of the woman’s youngest daughter, Maggie, who was now 15. Why, she asked her, are you so peaceful?
The daughter said, “Because my Mom is in heaven. I know she has complete joy. What more could I want for her?”
The daughter, who was only a teenager, was not thinking about herself, but about her mother. God, however, was also thinking of Maggie.
“Maggie’s many brothers and sisters are taking care of her today,” said the Cardinal. “Thank God for large families!”
This family’s eldest son is now 29. In the coming year the Cardinal revealed, to the delight of the crowd at the World Meeting of Families, that this young man will become a priest.
Said Cardinal Sarah: “Evil does not have the last word! God brings good from evil. This is how God has worked from the beginning of creation. God is not overcoming evil with evil; he overcomes evil with good.
“A young married husband and wife in the U.S. were granted the grace to love selflessly to the end; first, by repenting, then by receiving and believing in the Good News. The Faith with which they lived instills hope in us that we too can bring the light of the Gospel to the world.”
May all of us learn to repent, to believe, and to follow God’s will for us so that we too may follow the Cardinal’s call to be “heroic witnesses” who bring light and hope to a darkened world.
God bless you Family!