How our Confirmation students kept us calm during a false missile threat in Hawaii

In this Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 photo provided by Civil Beat, cars drive past a highway sign that says "MISSILE ALERT ERROR THERE IS NO THREAT" on the H-1 Freeway in Honolulu. The state emergency officials announced human error as cause for a statewide announcement of an incoming missile strike alert that was sent to mobile phones. (Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat via AP)

On Saturday morning, Jan. 13, our confirmation students gathered here at the Newman Center in Honolulu for their confirmation retreat. It started off like any other morning, with breakfast before getting the day started. As we began, the blaring noise of the emergency alert from our phones captured our attention: there was a missile threat! As each one of us looked at our phones, there was a noticeable moment of confusion. What does this mean? What do we do? Is this even real? How do we know? Is there a way to verify?

Naturally, we immediately turned to sources of communication: radio, television, internet and social media. There was no indication of how real the threat was aside from the phone notification. We called campus security and then 911—they did not have any definitive answers for us either. Without a clear sense of what was happening, it was very evident that our first priority was the care, comfort and safety of our community’s children.

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With nowhere to go—the university buildings are locked on the weekend—and no time to waste, we turned to the only thing we were certain of: our faith.

During those first minutes after receiving the alert, we were paralyzed by uncertainty and anxiety. In these moments, the students turned to the adults, seeking answers we could not give them. We asked them to call their parents to inform them of the situation. With nowhere to go—the university buildings are locked on the weekend—and no time to waste, we turned to the only thing we were certain of: our faith.

We were gathering for prayer in the student lounge where our retreat was taking place, but then we quietly migrated in almost a processional pace toward the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament resides. There we stood around, took a few deep breaths, centered ourselves and surrendered everything to God. We prayed, we embraced and we waited together.

We prayed, we embraced and we waited together.

Considering the circumstances, our confirmation students remained calm and exhibited great maturity, serving as an indication of their preparedness to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are bestowed upon us in the Sacrament of Confirmation. They were reminded that their emotions were a natural response to the situation, that they are an expression of the love that we have for ourselves, family and friends, a love that does not originate from ourselves, but from our Creator.

Our youth exhibited for us this weekend that in all moments of life, whether they are moments of fear, sadness, happiness, triumph, despair or hope, our faith calls us to turn to Christ. Thankfully, after almost 40 minutes of uncertainty, we found out the alert was false and the parents slowly came to collect their children.

I would like to extend my deep gratitude to our director of Religious Education, Anna Viggiano, and our confirmation catechist, Maile Lam, for their tender care, faithful presence and professionalism during this fearful and anxious Saturday morning. We are very fortunate to have them, and all our catechists, caring for the spiritual development and education of our youth.

The 38 minutes this morning, though frightening, were also a reminder of the grace that exists in moments such as these. How we can experience grace in our own lives? We need only to look to our children for such models of faith.

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