“This is not Just Your Loss, but Our Loss, the World’s Loss:”
Insight from Youth in a Time of Tragedy
Rev. Peter Schineller, S.J. - Loyola Jesuit College
It was the beginning of the Christmas holidays. Exams were over. Christmas
carols were sung. That Saturday was departure day. Our students on Sosoliso flight 745
were about to land in Port Harcourt, Nigeria after a one hour flight from Abuja. Many of
their parents and brothers and sisters were at the airport anxiously waiting to welcome
them. Then the crash, the fire, and the death of over one hundred persons, including sixty
from Loyola Jesuit College. One tenth of our student body. One mother and father lost
three children, four other parents lost two.
Instead of Christmas joy, there were tears and grief. There were funerals and
burials. Fourteen alone in one parish in Port Harcourt, including the priest who had
baptized several of the young students when he was parish priest there some years earlier.
He too died on that fateful Saturday. Seven bodies could not be identified and had to be
buried in a common/mass grave.
Visitors came to our campus to pay condolence visits, including the President of
Nigeria, many members of the Senate and House, traditional leaders, Christian and
Muslim leaders. Many came from secondary schools, near and far. It seemed that
teachers could in some way more keenly sense what it must be like to lose 10% of your
student body, at least one student in each of the 24 classes.
Then letters and e-mails began to pour in. From leaders and public officials,
from executive and friends. As President of Loyola Jesuit College, I was privileged to
read, reflect on, and share the condolence notes. I wish to share some reflections on
what I read, and what these letters meant to our College.
Among the thousands of notes received, there is one group of letters and notes
and banners that I will focus on and highlight. These came from school children in the
United States and Scotland, mostly at Jesuit schools. So powerful and so beautiful were
they, that we covered the walls of our reception hall and dining hall with these cards and
letters for our own students to see when they returned to school in January. And they
made a difference!
The notes were addressed to the parents of those who lost their children, to
Loyola students who lost their classmates, or to the staff and teachers here at Loyola
Jesuit College. Believe me, they made a difference, and still do today, several months
after the tragedy. They assure us that we are not alone. They remain a powerful witness
to Christian faith. They show me in particular the strength of Jesuit education.
Many of the letters and notes and banners were hand made cards, drawings, art,
depicting candlelights, Jesus on the cross, the pieta, a rainbow, angels of heaven, and
planet earth surrounded by human hands. All done by school children aged between 10
and 17, the same age as the children who died.
Let me turn, however, not to the pictures, but to words by which the youth of the
world tried to console our own youth and families. A number of themes emerged as I
read and reflected over the letters. I will quote from the notes and allow the students to
speak for themselves. In them I find remarkable simplicity and directness, powerful
insight and inspiration, strong faith and love, freshness and depth.
Solidarity. The first theme is solidarity. We see clearly in the letters that in this
global village, we are not alone.
You attend high school just like us. You have the same emotions as us. That
makes you all our brothers and sisters. Know that we are here and know that we
are praying for you. Never lose faith. We are behind you and with you.
In times of need we try to lend a helping hand, and though we cannot do much
since we live in a far away land, just know that our love and prayers are with you.
No matter what, you are in our hearts.
I feel that we are all connected in Christ and brothership, so in a way I feel that I
have suffered alongside with all of you.
Our love goes out to all affected by this tragedy. The loss of children in Nigeria is
a huge loss to everyone and is felt by all. We hold each and every one of you in
God never meant us to face the tough times alone. That’s why he gave us each
other, so here I am!
This is not just your loss, but our loss, the world’s loss. The world will be a
lonelier place due to their absence. I know that they would have changed the
Sympathy and Compassion. Several related their own experience of suffering, or
much more commonly, the fact that they could not imagine what it must be like to
lose so many schoolmates.
I don’t really know what to say because all my family and friends are OK or have
died a natural death. I don’t understand how all of you feel and I won’t pretend I
do. I’ll pray for you guys. It’s the least we can do for you. Stay strong.
I know how you are feeling. When I was eight, my dad, brother and two sisters
died in a plane crash off the coast of California. Now it is just my mom, two
sisters and myself. This is a very delicate topic for me and this is the first time
that I have talked of it in years. It must be the same for you, as a delicate topic.
(Note – I changed the details slightly to preserve privacy)
I am sorry for your loss, I know it must hurt. I recently lost a very good friend and
have had trouble getting back to my normal day life. God for some time left my
heart, judging by how I felt. My life went downhill quickly because I left God. I
ask that instead of leaving Him, that you go to Him and seek help.
Our school here has suffered losses of our own. Two years ago, three students
from my class died in a tragic car accident. The feelings are painful and they
linger longer than desired. I only hope your loss shall bring you closer as a
community. Look to your friends, they shall be your primary source of comfort.
Please know that I can understand what you are going through, because I too lost
friends recently. Two of my closest friends were gunned down, and for a while I
couldn’t contain my grief. If it weren’t for my family, I would have done
something irrational and hazardous for my health. Now more than ever, you, your
families, and your school must remain unified so that you can properly remember
all the great times you shared with them.
Remember that death is a comma, not a period. I just want you to know that
whereas you are in your heart burning now, as the time passes on, your heart will
be warmed by the precious memories that were once just a daily normal
unappreciated thing. Cry and don’t care what anything thinks, be depressed for as
long as it takes. Time heals all wounds. Let time heal yours. I hope you take
what I say to heart, because it comes from my heart, the heart of someone who
has lost plenty of family and a close friend.
Just this Christmas I lost my brother in a severe car accident on his break home
from the Army. I wish I could tell you that the pain goes away. Just never forget
them, always love and miss them and still talk to them. Live everyday in
happiness and remind loved ones how much you love them every day.
(Changed slightly by the editor)
Around September 11th support came from all over. It is now our turn to reach out
to you. Know our prayers and support is with you.
I can imagine what it would be like to walk into school and not see my best
friend standing by his locker. I have very strong relationships with the people
around me and can only imagine what it would be like to lose these friends.
Messages of Faith, Hope, and Love. In simple words, we see how Christian faith,
and belief in the power of prayer make a difference.
We may never understand why this tragic incident occurred, but it teaches us the
importance of prayer, and the need for us to count our blessings everyday.
May Mary, the mother of Jesus, who stood at the foot of the cross, stand beside
you and comfort you in your tremendous loss. May the Mother of Consolation be
We would like to stretch out a hand of comfort to you. We are here, just as Christ
is, grieving your losses. We are here for support and comfort to all of you, just as
you would be to us.
May the peace which only Christ can give fill your hearts and begin the healing
process. As the days progress, may the healing take root more deeply and may
you carry on the spirit of the students lost, through living your lives as fully as
Not sure what to say, not sure what to do, but one thing’s for sure…
We’ll be praying for you.
Notes to the Bereaved Parents who lost their Children: We have tried to share these
beautiful thoughts with the parents – hoping they offer some small consolation for
their unimaginable loss.
Dear Parents: I am very sorry. I know that in heaven your kids are happy to have
such wonderful parents.
Dear Parents: I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I thought it would
be nice to know that there are people who care.
Dear Students and Families: I am sorry. I am praying for you. I know things will
get better for you soon, and I know Jesus is watching over you.
Dear Loyola College: I am so sorry. Tell their parents I am sorry that your
children died. Their children will be waiting for them in heaven and they will
always be watching over them.
Your children will always dance, always sing, always play in the presence of the
Lord. He loved them greatly in this life and he will not forget them in the next.
Going to a fine Jesuit school, these children must have been kind, generous,
loving and genuine people. I know they will be missed, but you are not alone.
Dear Parents: I know it would be tough to lose a young person like your children.
I am sure you children were great people and I would have loved to be friends
with them if I had been given the chance. Thank you for your time in raising
your children and know that this was a great loss for the world. You will be in
Dear Parents: I heard about the accident, I was sad. Writing this letter made me
cry. I have been praying for you every day.
I did not know your son. All I know is that he went to a Jesuit school, and from
what I know, only the best go there. I believe that he made the world a better
place and will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.
Dear Parents: I am sorry. Don’t worry. They are still with you in your heart.
They haven’t left you. The will be with you for eternity. Just remember that they
will always be with you as long as you believe they are.
The Jesuit Family. Most of the schools that sent notes were Jesuit-run secondary schools,
Cristo Rey, or Nativity Schools. As I read through them, I had a feeling of pride in our
Jesuit schools. Something wonderful and good is happening there in the classrooms and
You are in our prayers and thoughts. You have to remember that the Jesuits are a
large network and we are always there for you. If we stick together, we will get
May all of us, the Jesuit family, bind together and pray for the terrible loss.
I feel privileged to attend a close-knit school and I cannot imagine what it would
be like for me to lose my family and friends.
I am a student at Regis Jesuit High School in Denver, Colorado. We received
news of your tragedy, and since then my thoughts have been focused on you and
your school. This is the true test of the Jesuit brotherhood, and how we help one
another in times of need.
I know how close Jesuit students are to each other, and I know that this is the
worst thing that can happen to a school.
From one brother school to another, we offer you our prayers in coping with this
terrible tragedy. Your loss is not yours alone, for we feel it too.
I am sorry to hear that so many close people have died due to this horrible
disaster. For I am in a Jesuit school too, and would you to know my thoughts are
In this time of mourning and sadness, forget not the support and love that lies
within the worldwide Jesuit community.
As fellow students of Jesuit teaching, we understand how close your community
must be, and share your grief.
When one Jesuit school loses someone, all the Jesuit schools across the world
experience a loss. Of course, we don’t experience the reality of it as much as all
of you do, but being the community that Jesuit schools are, I feel your pain.
Although we are so many miles apart, know that the entire Jesuit community of
teachers, students and families around the world is one in your sadness and shares
the pain of this great loss.
Learning From the Tragic Loss. Even amid the pain and grief and loss, many
urge our students to think positive, and make it a time for reflection and growth.
I would ask you to use this loss to strengthen your relationships with one another
and to become better men and women for God. AMDG
I can tell you the best way to deal with the pain is to remember the fun times and
honor their lives by living life to the fullest.
Their death makes us all too aware of our human frailties, our terrible
temporariness, our failure to appreciate the gift of life, both our own and others.
If their passing makes us more compassionate, more appreciative, and more
loving, then perhaps they will rest content in knowing that they have helped us
become better people.
Even though they are not with you any more, you are still here and can do great
things. You are still alive and can contribute many things to the world. All of this
you can do in remembrance of those you know.
We must keep the memories of these students in our hearts and not forget their
personalities and dreams.
As we keep you in our thoughts and prayers, your plight has reinforced the need
to remain humble and appreciate everything you experience in life, be it friends,
or family, or education
Last summer my Jesuit school lost three boys (in my class) to a car accident. My
class was divided at the time of the crash. Now my senior class are like brothers,
all caring about each other immensely. In this loss, I hope you will all find
consolation and realize that their death was not in vain.
Always try to remember the good times that you shared with them. Always
remember that they didn’t leave you completely because they will always be with
you in spirit and in heart. You will always have what you lived with them.
Pain, Loss, Grief, yet Hope of Heaven. So many of the children were able to keep
the pain and grief together with the solid hope of new and everlasting life.
I am sorry for your loss. I just know every last one of those kids went to heaven. I
felt your pain all the way in America. I will pray for your lost ones.
This is not just your loss, but our loss, the world’s loss. The world will be a
lonelier place due to their absence.
There is no way I could imagine what you are feeling right now. I can only send
my love and remind you of God’s presence.
When a pet or person dies, they go to the rainbow bridge. That person/pet will be
happy and be young again with no problems or pain. They will make friends and
be friends. Then one day they see a familiar face. They come running toward you.
Then you will cross the rainbow bridge together.
Gathering strength from God may not be your first priority, but I pray that you
realize that it’s a big source of comfort. In grieving, you are honoring their
memory. So it’s all right to feel sorrow, for it will show your love for them in
It’s terrible what happened to the kids, kids you know and loved. It’s hard to
comprehend sixty people dying that you are close with. I don’t really know what
to say because I know that when I’m sad, I don’t really want to talk to everybody
all at once. I guess I am just trying to say, hang in there, and know God is there
Sorry, we miss them too. I hope you will feel better when you get this letter.
If I could, I would take your cares in my arms and release them to the scattering
winds. I know there is not much I can do to makes things better right now… but I
hope it helps to know that I am here. I care and I believe in you.
I feel as though everything happens for a reason, and is included in God’s plan.
This may seem ridiculous now, but perhaps God wants them to sit at his side at
his table, which we all will soon enough. Keep these thoughts in your mind
during this hard time, and try to see that they are experiencing bliss with the Lord
in his Kingdom
Try to think of the good times you had together. I will pray for you and hope that
the tragedy doesn’t ruin your life. They are now in heaven with God. So now my
advice for you is to cherish every moment as if it’s your last.
Many of the students reflected on how words are inadequate in the face of such
great loss. One note put it beautifully: “Hopefully our prayers can do more for you than
our words, which must seem feeble from your point of view.” Yet so many were able to
express their thoughts and feelings in words. Reading over their comments, often with
tear-filled eyes, has deepened my own faith in youth, in the Christian faith, and in Jesuit
education. I am impressed, indeed proud, that so many youth were able to reach out in
sympathy and touch the hearts of our students who in turn deeply appreciated the love
coming from around the globe.
I am proud of the Christian and Catholic faith of these youths. The mystery of
death and resurrection, belief in life everlasting, the love of God in Jesus, come through
strongly. The children see that in spite of geographic distances, Christians form a family
that mourns together in solidarity.
As a Jesuit, I am proud of what is happening in our Jesuit schools. There is a
closeness among students in our schools, and I see how that bond and solidarity extends
from one Jesuit school to another.
The crash of December 10 th remains a tremendous tragedy. The loss of sixty
bright young students will never be forgotten. Yet expressions of love and support from
students around the world have helped all of us, the parents of the deceased, the students
and staff at Loyola Jesuit College, to move forward together in faith, hope, and love.