Community Prays for Retirees Missing in Cruise Disaster

Friends of missing retirees Jerry and Barbara Heil are planning a prayer service for the Minnesota couple, who haven't been heard from since the cruise ship they were on capsized off the coast of Tuscany on Friday night.  Today, divers recovered five bodies from the wreckage of the Concordia Costa -four men and a woman-although it's unclear if the Heils were among them.

"At this point we don't have anything new to report," said the latest posting on the Heil family's blog. "We will await word from the U.S. Embassy and Italian authorities on the newly discovered passengers.  Please continue to pray for the other families and the safety of the rescuers."

The uncertainty has prompted a 24-hour prayer vigil at the church the Heils attend.

"The sense from fellow parishioners is that there is still a lot of hope," said Dr. Larry Erickson, the parish administrator at the Church of St Pius X in White Bear Lake.  The 1,500-member parish will hold a prayer service for the Heils on Wednesday night.

Sixty-nine-year-old Jerry, a retired state worker, and Barbara, 70, a cancer survivor, attended mass every morning, and would often come early to pray the rosary.  Their absence leaves a void.

"I see Jerry and Barb every day. It's a different kind of missing them right now," said Erickson.

The Heils are parents to four grown children and have 15 grandchildren.  They are well known for their devotion to family and faith.  Friends describe a quiet couple who would volunteer to run church dinners, make meals for those in need and drive neighbors to medical appointments.

"It takes a lot of people to make things happen, and the Heils were folks you could count on," said Duane Jabas, a long-time friend and fellow member of the Knights of Columbus with Jerry Heil.

"He was a silent leader. Very meticulous in all the things he did, "said Jabas. "Every now and then he'd come up with a one-liner that would just get you laughing.  He has a sense of humor that could diffuse any situation."

Neighbors say the Heils were known for their acts of kindness, generosity and service.  Jerry taught classes on religion and the Catholic faith. His wife cooked and delivered meals to needy families.

Duane Jabas knew his friends were going on the trip of a lifetime, but he never imagined this.

Now, he is left to do the only things he can: hope and pray.

"There is so much strength in prayer to console," he said. "Five little words, 'Jesus, I trust in you.' They've been repeated a lot in our parish and our community since Friday. We are hoping good news is just around the corner."