Not since the bombing of the United States Embassy in Beirut has a crisis so touched America. The first hostages freed from the hijacked Trans World Airlines jet have begun returning home. For some communities, this is a time of rejoicing. For others, the wait continues.
``We're home! We're home!'' shouted three former hostages as they arrived at San Francisco International Airport.
Two women freed from the ordeal were greeted by family and friends at a church service at St. Margaret Mary Church in Algonquin, Ill. as the choir sang ``America the Beautiful.'' Their priest, the Rev. P. William McDonnell also was released.
But here in Geneva, Ill., the wait continues. ``It brings home the fact that something 6,000 miles away can affect you here,'' said Galen Stacy, who stopped by to pray at St. Peter's Church. Although four members of this suburban Chicago Roman Catholic church have been released, the pastor, the Rev. James W. McLoughlin, remained captive at this writing.
``You know, you've heard this hostage thing for years and you never think a thing,'' said a parishioner. But from now on, ``I sure would offer a prayer for anyone that would be in this situation.''
In Hutchinson, Kan., the news is mixed. Over the weekend the terrorists released another member of the Park Place Christian Church. Robert Peel Sr. became Sunday the third member of his family to be freed.
``Oh! Glad!'' Leonard Hinkel recalled of his reaction to the news. He is moderator of the elders of Park Place Christian Church, where the Peels are members. Mr. Peel's son, however, had not been released at time of writing.
``They're all going to be back in Hutchinson someday,'' Mr. Hinkel says. ``The whole mood throughout the community has been very positive.''
``I am doing more praying than I have ever done in my life,'' says Charlene Strickland of Winston-Salem, N.C. Her son-in-law, Kurt Carlson, of Rockford, Ill., was thought to be among remaining captives.
And in Indianapolis, Deanna Hoskins, whose son James W. Hoskins Jr. was listed as a hostage, said, ``You don't think anything like this would happen to you.'' The mood also was hopeful in Geneva, Ill., despite the lack of news about the Rev. Mr. McLoughlin. Other than the note from the hostages asking President Reagan not to take military action -- a note McLoughlin wrote, church members say -- there has been no word from the man known here as ``Father Jim.''
``The greatest thing I've learned is the gift of this parish community,'' said Stan Szara, the church's deacon. Volunteers have donated time and food in the church's efforts to man phones and monitor events on television sets that run continuously. (The Lutheran minister next door, trained as an electrician, helped the St. Peter's Church by improving its TV reception.) A round-the-clock prayer vigil has continued since Friday afternoon.
``It's been a tremendous outpouring of support,'' added Bob Caniff, the church's director of liturgy and music. Geneva's mayor issued a proclamation for prayer. Residents are keeping their porch lights on as a sign of support. A big yellow ribbon has been tied around the sign in front of St. Peter's.
``I just wanted to stop here, you know, and say a little prayer in Geneva,'' said Al Jasick, a salesman from nearby St. Charles who dabs his eyes outside St. Peter's. ``You just feel so bad. You're helpless.''
Mr. Jasick is a member of St. Patrick's Church, whose pastor, the Rev. Thomas Dempsey, also had not been released at time of writing. Still, like many here, he says he believes some of his prayers have been answered.
``In a way, I think they have, because so many people were released,'' he says. ``I think they'll release 'em. They're going to make it.''