PILGRIM PLANE IN EMERGENCY LANDING
HERE was "drama in the skies" over Rome in the small hours of last Sunday morning when a plane from England, the "Holy Ghost Special," carrying 36 people including eight priests, made an emergency landing at a lonely, unlit, and mostly unmade airfield—with a bare 14 minutes fuel left in the tanks.
The plane, a 36-seater of Tartan Arrow line, was one contingent of a party of 66 on its way to Rome carrying Holy Ghost Fathers and friends for the consecration by the Pope of 14 missionary bishops. including two "Holy Ghost" Bishops.
Dense fog over Rome caused the plane to circle for two hours. Finding no break in the black-out the Dutch pilot flew on to Naples. Conditions were no better. On again, with fuel supplies diminishing and passengers anxious but praying.
The last hope, with less than a quarter of an hour's fuel left, was a newly building airfield, unlit. covered in barbed wire and with barely completed runways. This was Fiumicini Rome's new, and as yet unopened, airport by the seaside.
Six times the pilot ran in over the hazardous runways. Six times he swept up and away again, circling and anxious. Another Rosary was started and again the plane swept downwards, this time to land—and in safety.
" It was terrible, we prayed like mad . . ." Fr. Bernard Slevin, C.S.Sp., organiser of the group told me by phone from Rome on Monday. "We just had to wait until the police came and rescued us, we were already hours late and (he added, almost as an afterthought) rather shaken."
The 36 who had left Southend airport on Saturday evening included the Provincial of the English Province, Fr. Michael Duddy, C.S.Sp., Fr. Joseph Barrington, C.S.Sp., in charge of late vocations at Bicklcy, Kent; Fr. William trice, Provincial Bursar; Fr. Joseph Harrison, C.S.Sp., of Peasley Cross, St. Helens (where the new "Holy Ghost" Bishop, Mgr. Hagan, once served as parish priest); Fr. Patrick Shiels, Superior at the Holy Ghost Fathers House at Uddingston, Glasgow; Fr. Thomas Cullen, also from Uddingston; Fr. Fitzsimmons, .a missionary on leave from Nigeria, and Fr. Bernard Slevin, C.S.Sp.. in charge of the Congregation's Propaganda department in this country, and organiser of the party.
" It was miraculous that we got to St. Peter's in time for any f the ceremony," Fr. Slevin went on. " It started at 8.30—we were supposed to have been in our places at 7.15—but it was 10 o'clock when we arrived. They hustled us in by a side door."
Then. tiredness and anxiety momentarily forgotten. Fr. Slevin spoke of the most "tremendously striking moment "—when at the end of the ceremony during which the Pope had personally consecrated the 14 Bishops, from so many nations and races representing vividly the universality of the Church, the 14 walked in long procession up St. Peter's, each blessing the great crowd: but Fr. Slevin was still tired, "it was tremendous", was all he could repeat.