Matt Archbold has found a nugget in William F. Buckley's Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith about an incredibly courageous and faithful priest:
"David Niven told the engrossing story (I had never heard it) of a single episode in the chaotic flight from France after Dunkirk in 1940.
One motley assembly, ‘Royal Air Force ground personnel who were trapped, Red Cross workers, women, ambulance drivers and, finally, the embassy staff from Paris with their children — by the time they got to St. Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, there were over three thousand of them and the British government sent an old liner called the Lancastria to come and take them away, with three destroyers to guard her. They were just pulling up the anchor when three dive bombers came.
The destroyers did what they could, but one bomb hit, went down the funnel and blew a huge hole in the side, and she quickly took on a terrible list. In the hold there were several hundred soldiers. Now there was no way they could ever get out because of the list, and she was sinking. And along came my own favorite Good Samaritan, a Roman Catholic priest, a young man in Royal Air Force uniform. He got a rope and lowered himself into the hold to give encouragement and help to those hundreds of men in their last fateful hour.’
‘Knowing he couldn’t get out?’ ‘Knowing he could never get out, nor could they. The ship sank and all in that hold died. The remainder were picked up by the destroyers and came back to England to the regiment I was in, and we had to look after them, and many of them told me that they were giving up even then, in the oil and struggle, and the one thing that kept them going was the sound of the soldiers in the hold singing hymns.’”
An amazing story, one that makes my own faith seem so small and weak, one that was told by guest blogger BroKen on this blog around Christmas in 2010:
Why would that young priest do such an apparently foolish thing? It might make sense to risk your life if there was a chance to save some. But these men were all doomed and he doomed himself along with them.
Will you forgive me for reminding you during this Christmas season that we are all just as doomed as the soldiers in the hold of the Lancastria? The only difference is that we often deny it, while they could not. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus lowered himself down into our hopeless situation, suffering everything that we suffer, in order to give us hope. The priest had received that hope of a new life, an eternal life, and it propelled him to give himself, literally, to share that hope with the hopeless.
This past weekend the Church celebrated Pentecost, when God breathed fire and life into His disciples and they set out and changed the world as a result. We need that fire and life breathed on us again.
The hopelessness that prevails today needs that which drove the young priest into the hold, needs that which moved those to sing hymns before losing their lives. Hope is needed now more than ever. Hope not in political solutions but in that which sustains, that which perseveres, that which only the Church can give. The hope and peace that comes from Jesus Christ.
Breathe on us once again Oh God that we might be beacons of that Hope.
Begin with me.