It was a Tuesday, September 11 five years ago. That morning, 19 men hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners and crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, in the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. A confirmed 2,973 people died and another 24 remain listed as missing to this day as a result of these attacks.
I watched these events that changed part of our history, in Malta. The next day I went to Rome to start discussing the Guam Seminary’s possible affiliation to the Lateran University. It was there, in the square of Saint John Lateran Basilica, that I was given the news that Frank was missing.
Frank Palombo was one of the 343 firefighters reported missing while rescuing survivors from the World Trade Center.
We kept hoping that he will somehow emerge from all the bedlam that erupted. He had a wife and ten children, eight boys and two girls; the eldest 15, the youngest 1. He was the responsible of the first ever Neocatechumenal community in the United States at Saint Colomba Parish in New York. He was a dear dear friend.
He did not come back. They never even found a trace of him.
“On October 2, I returned to Ground Zero with my catechists, and only then was I able to tell my children that their father had died,” recounts Jean, his wife. Twelve year old Joey spoke up. “I would like to see the smile on his face when I make him proud”, Joey remarked. “That was tough,” said Jean.
“I miss Frank terribly and I cry a lot, but I know that he will continue to help us from heaven,” Jean says today. “I am praying for more profound intimacy with Christ, because I am sure it will bring as beautiful fruits as the ones that resulted from my intimacy with Frank.”
“Frank transmitted the faith to the children, and they often console me with a word,” she continues. “The children are happy because of the father they have, but they miss not being able to play with him, not being able to pray with him, not being able to learn with him, and not being able to be with him.
“I am afraid, but I cling to the Lord. Now we will continue, in the Church, doing God’s will.”
More faith… “I think God works for the good of those who love him. This event has been a great evil. But God’s love has exceeded this evil. When I think of the terrorists, I can only say: ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they have done.'”
“If a New York mosque was burning and there were Taliban members inside, he and his brothers would have gone in and risked their lives”, Jean says convincingly. “They were not into politics – they were into saving lives. Frank would have said: “It’s an honor to love your enemies…”
It was not always like this. “Seventeen years ago, I had left the Church. I did not want any children; my marriage was breaking up little by little,” she recalls. “One day, Frank invited me to hear some catechists. I said to him: ‘It’s the last thing I’ll do in the Catholic Church’.”
“That night I witnessed Christianity in an itinerant couple who were expecting their fourth child. They had left everything — home, careers, their country — to proclaim the Gospel. I thought: ‘God loves me so much that he has inspired in someone this desire so that I could hear the Good News,'” Jean observed.
“When I saw that love, I realized immediately that I didn’t have that love, not even for my husband,” she recalled. “In a catechesis immediately after, I heard Giuseppe [the catechist] say: ‘Do you think, perhaps, that God is a monster that you do not allow his will to be done in your life?’ He opened my life, and today, with 10 children, I can say that God knew the desires of my heart.”
Jean told me that she once looked down the dinner table and caught him weeping, ‘I’m so fortunate to have all these children,’ he said! When friends teased Frank about fathering 10 children, he would reply with a grin, “I want more.”
“So much is being said about what type of memorial to build on that spot. For me, the cross is enough,” Jean Palombo said during a memorial service last year.
“My husband is helping me. His presence is stronger every day. The Lord has been faithful with Frank, with me, and with all of us who are faithful to Him. Every day I think that I am a widow, I have ten children and a broken arm, and I can’t make it. And God says, ‘That’s right Jean, you can’t, but I can, and I will.’ And He does, every day.”
“Once Jesus met a woman and simply told her, “Woman, do not weep!” … There is a gaze and a heart that penetrates to your very marrow and loves you all the way to your destiny, a gaze and a heart that … no one can render powerless! There is nothing that can suspend that immediate rush of love …” (Luigi Guissani)
HE loves you Jean. HE loves you Frank. What a gift to have known you!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.