The phone rang a little after 8 Wednesday morning, and it was the call Nancy Fontaine had been waiting for.
John Weir was on the line from Washington, and with him was his father, the Rev. Benjamin Weir--the first of seven American hostages to be released in Lebanon.
Fontaine hung up the phone and broadcast the news over the loudspeaker, and the 99 residents of the Hylond Convalescent Hospital in Westminster knew that several months of prayer had been answered.
Within minutes, elderly residents were emerging from their rooms, some cheering, some crying, some sporting yellow shirts and bathrobes in honor of the occasion, Fontaine said. Eric Jacobsen of Huntington Beach, son of David Jacobsen, one of the six still being held captive in Lebanon, arrived an hour later for a hasty celebration before flying to Washington.
“The excitement here, we haven’t been able to get any work done,” said Fontaine, activities director at the hospital. “Even the delivery man came in and said, ‘Wow, what’s going on here?’ ”
For months, Hylond Hospital’s elderly residents have gathered each afternoon at 3 to pray for the seven American hostages, with each resident adopting one of the hostages and offering private prayers on the hostage’s behalf every three hours.
For many of them, the hostages have become a focal point, something that “keeps them in touch with the world . . . keeps them from feeling forsaken and abandoned,” explained hospital administrator Ruth Johnson.
Residents have exchanged letters and phone calls with families of the hostages daily. They hosted families of six of the hostages for a “Freedom Day of Prayer” at Westminster City Hall last month. They have launched discussions with the U.S. Postal Service aimed at issuing a commemorative stamp from a painting Fontaine did of the seven hostages.
Letter From Vatican
They have even received a letter from the Vatican assuring them that Pope John Paul II “also prays for the freedom of hostages and for peace.”
Wednesday’s phone call was the first sign of hope in what has been a long vigil.
“John said he spent the weekend in Washington with Rev. Weir, he and his mother, and they wanted to let their adopted family know they were there and Rev. Weir was with them, and they were going to come back and celebrate with us,” Fontaine said.
It was a day of celebration for most of the hostages’ families. Cathy Jacobsen, daughter-in-law of the Huntington Beach hospital administrator kidnaped in May, said that the family is “very glad for Rev. Weir and his family. . . . It’s really an exciting day for the Weirs, and I’m so glad he’s been released, and I hope it means they’ll let the rest of them go.”
Not surprisingly, Wednesday’s 3 p.m. prayer at Hylond Hospital was a little different. This time, there was a banner in the hall that proclaimed: “One Home, Six to Go.”
The Daily Prayer
This time, it began with a quiet recital of “Amazing Grace” and swelled into foot-stomping renditions of “God Bless America” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Gnarled fists clenched red and blue balloons and an American flag. Then the room grew hushed, and the prayer, as every day, began:
. . . You expired, Jesus, but the swords of life gusted forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. Oh fount of life, unfathomable divine mercy, envelop the whole world and empty yourself out upon us.
And Fontaine concluded, “Thank you, Jesus, for releasing Ben Weir. We are very grateful. Please release the other six hostages.”
Resident Dorothy Williams said afterward: “I laughed and I cried at the same time when I heard. One down and six to go, that’s the way I look at it.”
“Around the clock, every three hours we’ve prayed for them,” added Barbara Landry. “Now I know one is home, six to go, and it’s only a matter of time before we’ll be celebrating like this again.” Landry, 86, wears a placard around her neck for hostage William Buckley, the one she has “adopted” for her special prayers.
Ironically, only one resident--William Miller--had adopted Weir and had worn a placard for him at the Freedom Day of Prayer Aug. 30. The elderly man died the next day. “But you know, his last words were of him,” Fontaine said. “He said, ‘My last prayer is that Rev. Weir will be released'--and he died.”