For anyone who might not know, Richard Phillips is the captain of the Maersk ship Alabama. While it was travelling down the coast of Africa last week, Somali pirates attempted to hijack it. Partially through the efforts of the crew in fighting back, and largely through the captain's decision to offer himself as a hostage in exchange for his crew's freedom, the ship and all of its crew (except for Phillips) escaped.
According to The Boston Globe, the father of the Alabama's second-in-command called Phillips a hero, saying:
"I have made it clear throughout this terrible ordeal that my son and our family will forever be indebted to Captain Phillips for his bravery. If not for his incredible personal sacrifice, this kidnapping and act of terror could have turned out much worse."
The same article quotes Richard Gurnon, the president of Massachusetts Maritime Academy (of which Capt. Phillips is a graduate) as saying of Phillips, "He was the good shepherd. He willingly exchanged his life for the lives of his flock, his crew."
This is exactly the kind of imagery that came to mind for me, as well. And it doesn't end there: Phillips spent the next several days floating adrift -"dead in the water"- with four heavily armed pirates, who could have easily made the ocean more than just a symbolic tomb for the father of two. But, just as Jesus emerged from what his followers feared was his final resting place, Phillips was rescued completely intact (and on Easter Sunday, no less) by the daring actions of Cmdr. Frank Castellano and the crew of the USS Bainbridge.
Now, I don't know exactly what motivated Capt. Phillips to offer himself in exchange for his crew, or in what proportion different parts of his character and background worked toward this decision. But it is worth noting that he and his family are Catholic. Not only that, but Cmdr. Castellano, his primary rescuer, is a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus. In fact, the cargo of the Alabama even included 860 metric tons of food aid from Catholic Relief Services, destined for the poor in Rwanda. So, Catholic principles run all through this story.
I think all of this may best be summarized by a quote from VeggieTales' "An Easter Carol," which we watched with the girls again on Sunday morning. In a vision of a world in which the true meaning of Easter is forgotten, the angel Hope shows a Scrooge-like character how a police officer who, in the current reality, is unusually heroic now backs down from the first sign of aggression by a criminal. "What do you think made him brave in the first place?" Hope asks. "Without the hope of Easter, why would anyone risk their life for someone else?"