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Costa Concordia wreck: Hopes fading for Minnesota couple onboard

January 27, 2012 | 11:01 am

Costa_Concordia_Gerald_and_Barbara_Heil
Costa Concordia -- that once-majestic cruise ship -- capsized two weeks ago after sailing into shallow waters near the western coast of Italy. All but 32 of the 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew were saved.

Sixteen bodies have been recovered. Among those still missing: retirees Gerald and Barbara Heil of Minnesota.

Photos: Dramatic images of Costa Concordia wreck

Gerald Heil, 69, and Barbara, 70, always dreamed of traveling but put it off while raising four kids and sending them to college, and then delighting in their 15 grandchildren, according to a friend at their church in White Bear Lake, Minn.

The couple selflessly and tirelessly served the congregation of about 1,500 families, including teaching faith classes to the church's younger parishioners. Barbara Heil could always be counted on for cooking and delivering food to the needy, Dr. Larry Erickson, director of operations at the Church of St. Pius X, told ABC News.

They were looking forward to a magical time during the 16-day European cruise. But on Jan. 13, the ship ran aground, ripping open the hull. The ship began taking on water, and later fell on its side.

In the days and hours after the capsizing, the Heil family and congregants at the Church of St. Pius X refused to give up hope, and have held close to their faith during this entire ordeal. There have been candlight vigils, services and endless prayers.

The family created a blog to keep friends, relatives, congregants and the media apprised of developments. And there has been a subtle shift in the language of the blog postings as the days have turned into weeks. An early posting talks about hopes for successful "search and rescue operations," but a more recent post suggests a heartbroken air of acceptance about the Heils' fate.

"As the days come and go we find this to be such an extreme test of our patience," says the most recent post headlined "The search continues..." "We so badly want Mom and Dad to be found so we can bring them home."

The posts were intended as news updates, but they also tell the world something critical about Gerald and Barbara Heil, and how they raised their children, and their deep, abiding faith.

Many of the passengers who survived are filing lawsuits, the captain of the ship is under investigation, and there are accusations of negligence. But for now there is no  anger or rancour visible on the Heil family blog.

Instead, nearly every post expresses heart-felt gratitude, awe and admiration for the rescue workers, hailing their heroic and tireless work to find the last remaining victims and asking for prayers to keep them safe. One example is this line in the most recent post:

"We continue to pray for the safety of those searching and express our sincere gratitude for all of their efforts."

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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Church of St. Pius X directory photo. (Associated Press / Olan Mills Studios)

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