Chicagoland

Guadalupe rector shares spiritual side of recent brush with death

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
August 22, 2018

Priest, survivors thank God for sparing their lives after plane crash

Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, celebrates Mass on Aug. 12, 2018, at the shrine to thank God for his safe return and that of the other passengers who were aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed in Durango, Mexico, on July 31. Several passengers from the flight attended and received a blessing following the Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Around 2,000 people attended the outdoor Mass on Aug. 12. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Sanchez gives the homily during a Mass of thanksgiving on Aug. 12. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Worshippers listen to the homily during which Father Sanchez said our goal in life is to adore and serve God. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Sanchez receives the gifts from Elsa Chaidez and Rafael Sanchez. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Sanchez prays during a Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, pray as Father Sanchez raises the Eucharist during a Mass of thanksgiving on Aug. 12. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Sanchez raises the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A boy looks up at Father Sanchez distributes Communion. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Worshippers attend a Mass of thanksgiving on Aug. 12. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Sanchez gives the final blessing. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Passengers who were aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed in Durango, Mexico, on July 31 make their way up to the altar for a blessing following a Mass of thanksgiving on Aug. 12. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Esequiel Sanchez stands with passengers who were aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed in Durango, Mexico, on July 31 prior to a blessing following a Mass of thanksgiving on Aug. 12 at the Shrine. (Patrick Kunzer/Daily Herald)
Passengers who were aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed in Durango, Mexico, on July 31 hold hands during a blessing. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Passengers who were aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed in Durango, Mexico, on July 31 hold hands during a blessing. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Esequiel Sanchez is escorted during the final procession by Deacons Lorenzo Chaidez and Salvador Medina.(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Sanchez becomes emotional hugging worrishpers after Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When a person survives a brush with death, such as a plane crash, and has stood at the precipice between this world and the next, they often ask themselves such questions as “Why did I survive?” or “What is waiting for me after I die?”

Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, addressed some of these questions about life and death in his homily during his first Mass back at the shrine Aug. 12 following the crash of an Aeromexico flight July 31 in Durango, Mexico, in which he and the rest of the 103 people aboard survived. 

The plane crashed almost immediately after takeoff from Durango’s General Guadalupe Victoria International Airport. About 15 of his family members and friends who were in Mexico to celebrate his 50th birthday were also on the plane. 

Sanchez sustained multiple fractures in his arm and required surgery. News media from around the world covered the story and focused on Sanchez’s experience in particular. 

He recently sat down with Chicago Catholic to share more about the spiritual implications of surviving a brush with death and the impact it has had on him and the other survivors. 

He believes that the fact that everyone survived the crash was a miracle from God. Sanchez took private flying lessons years ago and understands the science behind what happened.

It was raining and hailing outside when the plane took off. Then a microburst pushed it back down on the runway. The landing gear buckled and the plane went into a slide but didn’t tip over. The fuel tanks were punctured. 

“If the plane had flipped over it would have been a different story,” he said. “If we had been any higher it would have been a different story. If it wasn’t raining it would have been a very different story. There are so many factors that would tell you that it shouldn’t have been this way. The window of opportunity not only to make it but to make it out alive — all of us — is very small. That’s what I keep pointing to. That’s what leads you to say there was divine intervention here.”

Sanchez also saw miracles in the reactions of the passengers who took care of each other right away. 

“What I saw here was people did not want to leave without their loved ones. They went back to help others,” Sanchez said. “I would see that as miraculous too because people cared about each other.”

Despite his broken arm, Sanchez said he too went back to help. 

“All these things point to me that it was miraculous, and I’m very comfortable saying that because I’m looking at everything that’s telling me it should have come out differently,” he said. “But then the subsequent question is ‘why?’”

When the plane came down, it bounced and the passengers could feel the landing gear break. Sanchez didn’t think they would survive.

“It was happening so quickly,” he said. “The only thing that came through my mind was to perform a general absolution and get myself ready for death.” 

In times of mortal danger such as plane crashes and battle fields, priests can perform general absolutions which absolve those involved of their sins. 

“I did not know how I was going to die, what would cause my death but death was very much in front of me,” he said. “I asked the Lord for mercy.”

One question he said that surfaced for many survivors in the aftermath was what happens after we die. 

“Our faith has an answer for that. It’s called an accounting, it’s called our judgment,” he said.

Another question is what will life be like after death?

“God’s original purpose is that we adore him and that we serve him. That happens in heaven,” Sanchez said. “You’re not sleeping in a hammock up there. You’re not drinking margaritas saying ‘I’m done.’ No, no. It’s a life of adoration. It’s a life of service.”

It resembles what we can do here on earth for God, worshipping him more sincerely. 

“That’s the only way,” he said. “Not just worship but worship with more sincerity. Love more openly. Believe more robustly. Believe in the impossible. Stop controlling and you’ll find how you serve.”

Survivors are also asking, “Why were we spared?” In Durango that same day a bus accident killed 11 people.

“How do you say, ‘I had a miracle,’ and they didn’t?” he said.

That’s a question not just for those on the plane but for everyone who has lost a loved one in accidents. He raised that in his homily on Aug. 12.

“The temptation is to say that God is partisan or that God has his favorites,” Sanchez said. “I couldn’t let that slide. I said no, God is good, whether we live or die. He loves us very much. The end of the story is in his hands, not in this world.”

In the weeks following the crash, what is changing him personally is people’s expressions of love and gratitude to God that he made it out alive.

"People are telling you how much they love you. People are telling you how much it would hurt them if you were gone. You normally hear this stuff in a eulogy or when you’re dead,” he said. “Well, I’m not at my funeral Mass and I’m hearing this stuff.”

People are happy to see him because their faith in miracles has been confirmed, he said.

“You really want to take better care of those who love you and take better care of the gifts that you’ve been given,” Sanchez said. “That’s why I pray that I become a better priest. Not because the experience scared the bejeezus out of me, and it did, but because they showed so much love towards me. My response has to be [to be] a better priest.”

He acknowledges that his thoughts and emotions following the crash are different than many of the other survivors because he deals with faith, death and dying on a daily basis as a priest. 

For some, especially those without faith, the experience can shake them for a long time. 

“Trauma does different things to different people. That’s why our ministry as Catholics is important. What we do is so important — not just for life everlasting but for this life,” he said. “Religious people are not to talk about the ordinary, but the extraordinary. That’s where your hope is. Because otherwise what did Jesus really do?”

The crash and brush with death has made Sanchez more aware of the holiness of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he said.

“I’m more sensitive to what this place has to be now,” he said. “It’s not a parish. It has a lot of parish dimensions to it but people come from everywhere here, and they come broken. They come begging for miracles all of the time. I think I’m more sensitive to that need now.”

Topics:

  • shrine of our lady of guadalupe

Related Articles

Cowboy club makes annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

More than 200 members of Club Los Vaqueros Unidos (United Cowboys Club) from the Chicago area make their way to place roses at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines on Dec. 1, 2018. The annual horseback pilgrimage leads up to two days of festivities Dec. 11-12, when more than 100,000 people make a pilgrimage to the shrine for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The feast celebrates the appearance of Mary to indigenous peasant St. Juan Diego in 1531 near present-day Mexico City.

Advertising