Profile – Susan Hubbard
Missing Madeleine Vanished on holiday
By NANCY DURHAM (CBC News, Canada): May 2, 2008
One year ago, Kate and Gerry McCann’s holiday on Portugal’s Algarve coast turned into a nightmare. On the second-last night of their vacation, the McCanns, from Leicestershire, England, put their three children to bed: Madeleine, nearly four, and two-year-old twins Sean and Emilie. Then they walked 50 metres to dine at a tapas bar, which is part of the Ocean Club complex in Praia de Luz where they were staying with friends. The couples took turns checking on each other’s children every 30 minutes or so. At around 10 p.m., Kate McCann discovered Madeleine missing from her bed.
In the year since the 3-year-old girl disappeared on May 3, 2007, a Canadian couple has been playing a crucial role of support in the lives of Kate and Gerry McCann.
The Hubbards – Haynes, an Anglican priest who was about to take up a new post as senior chaplain for the Algarve Anglican Church, and Susan, a midwife – arrived in Praia de Luz three days after Madeleine’s disappearance. The town was in chaos as police combed the area looking for the missing British girl, reporters jostled for interviews and helicopters circled in the sky. This was no longer the peaceful tourist town the couple remembered from a previous visit when Haynes temporarily filled the role of Anglican chaplain in the former fishing village. Now he was arriving to take on the job full time.
God brought us here
The Hubbards appear to have had enough of reporters. Yet they agree to open their door to another inquisitive stranger for one reason only: because there’s a chance that giving another interview just might help find the little girl they’ve never met.
The Hubbards now believe Madeleine’s disappearance is the reason they were “called” to Portugal. Susan remembers the moment it hit her.
“It wasn’t until months later, when I saw really why God had brought us here, that I was awestruck that he confirmed we were to be here before we even set foot in our town of Praia de Luz,” she says. “For me, he confirmed it on the plane … the fact that there was a child missing here gave us our first mission before we even set foot in the place.”
Hold on to your baby
Their arrival was unnerving. When their plane landed in Lisbon, Susan was warned.
“This old woman grabbed me, and I was holding on to our five-month-old son, Caspian, and she grabbed my arm and spoke to me in Portuguese: ‘Hold on to your baby; there’s been an English child taken.’”
At first, Susan double-locked the doors and windows to keep their three children safe. Caspian has an older sister, Gabriela, 9, and brother, Sebastian, now 10. Soon, the family relaxed, and Haynes, too, saw this was the place they were meant to be.
“It was pretty clear that He was using us, of the same age [as the McCanns] and with small children and Susan speaking Portuguese … and being able to relate to them in a tiny way, to lead them in prayer and just to walk with them,” he said.
Haynes Hubbard loves travel, so when it was time to move on from his Dunnville, Ont., parish, he and Susan saw the job opening in Praia de Luz as an opportunity. Haynes says he felt a little guilty “in terms of my ministry, wanting to travel,” but a friend encouraged him to see it as a gift, pointing out that he could be useful abroad.
Rural Ontario roots
It’s hard to imagine a couple better suited to extend the hand of friendship to Kate and Gerry McCann, who are also devout Christians. Although the McCanns are Roman Catholic, in this seaside town, the lines between Catholic and Protestant are blurred. Both faiths share the pretty, white and mustard yellow-trimmed church, Our Lady of Light, which sits just above the shimmering beach in the town centre.
The McCanns were soon attending Haynes Hubbard’s weekly services, and Susan Hubbard reached out to Kate McCann. In keeping with her rural Ontario upbringing, she made her approach in that very Canadian way of offering food.
“It’s something my mother would always do, being a part of the church community in Canada,” Susan said.
More gifts of food followed, and notes, and soon a warm friendship between Susan Hubbard and Kate McCann began.
Susan wants it known that their friendship is not one-sided. She describes how throughout the McCanns’ own desperate ordeal, Kate inquired about the Hubbards’ children.
“That’s how she is,” Susan said. “In the middle of her grief, she still is such a caring, loving friend.”
In fact, Susan says, it was the McCanns who helped the Hubbards settle in to their new parish. Susan has visited the McCanns since their return to England last September, and the two women keep in close touch through text messages and e-mail.
‘Pray for me’
The Hubbards have faithfully stood by the McCanns throughout their ordeal, and they continue to do so. They hold weekly vigils for Madeleine in Our Lady of Light. A photograph of the little girl’s smiling face is on the wall by the altar. Beside it, the words “pray for me” are written.
Sightings of Madeleine have been reported across Europe and as far away as Australia, each one turning out to be a disappointment. At summer’s end last year, and with no clue to Madeleine’s disappearance, the Portuguese police named her parents as suspects, which in Portugal allows police to question witnesses more thoroughly.
No charges have been laid against the McCanns, but British tabloid newspapers turned on the couple, printing dozens of false stories filled with rumour and innuendo suggesting they were responsible for their daughter’s disappearance. The McCanns sued, and in March, the Express newspaper group paid more than $1 million in damages to the couple and printed front-page apologies. The McCanns are using the funds to support their campaign to find Madeleine as well as to launch a program in Europe similar to the North American Amber Alert system used to find missing children.
The Hubbards, like the McCanns, believe Madeleine may well be alive, and they pray for her safe return. The Hubbards’ faith in God is unwavering, though Susan Hubbard wonders “why our prayers haven’t been answered.”
“I don’t understand that,” she says. “I’ve seen the letters come into their home and their hands. How could so many people be praying for the exact same thing and it not happen? It’s hard.”