Prayer, 9/11 are inseparable

By | September 7, 2011

Whether or not this is an intended slight of religion by New York City and its mayor, it does offer us an opportunity to remember that religion cannot be separated from the events of 9/11.

Many who died at the World Trade Center were first responders. Some were ministers of various faiths. In fact, the first recorded victim that day was a first responder and chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He was also a Franciscan priest. Fr. Mychal Judge had rushed to the Twin Towers after the first plane struck and was praying with victims and administering last rites when he was killed by debris. A lasting image is of five firemen carrying his lifeless body from the wreckage to a nearby church.

Sept. 11, 2001, was a day of prayer — both in action and in words. Now-retired Cardinal Edward Egan of New York recently shared his experiences of that day with the Washington Post. He said he was called by then-Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and told that a police car was en route to take the cardinal to St. Vincent Hospital near the Trade Center so he could offer prayer and sacraments.

Locally, many churches opened their doors for prayer services on Sept. 11 and the days that followed. Green Bay diocesan employees gathered in the on-site chapel for prayer.

Every year since 2001, prayer has been part of anniversary memorial events. This year, the White House has announced that President Obama will attend an interfaith prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 11.

If Mayor Bloomberg is indeed banning prayer from 9/11 events this year, he is not following the example of his predecessors — Mayor Guiliani, who sent a police car for a cardinal; President George W. Bush, who asked that same Cardinal Egan to offer prayer at the WTC site when the president first visited there after the tragedy; and former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, whom Cardinal Egan said he found crying at St. Patrick Cathedral where the former mayor was praying for a fire chaplain friend he believed had been killed at the towers. (The man was later found alive.) Around the world — in France, Germany, Scotland, South Korea — Days of Prayer and Remembrance were held on Sept. 14, 2001. And who can forget the World Trade Center cross found on the site on Sept. 13? A replica stands at Fr. Judge’s grave in New Jersey.

The Twin Towers — and the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., — were events that were bigger than life: They touched eternity. When we pause to remember these events and the lives that were forever changed, we must also pause to touch eternity. Prayer, in its many and varied forms, does just that.

By the way, on Sept. 11, there will be a memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for the 343 firefighters killed at the World Trade Center. The adjacent 50th and 51st Streets will be closed to traffic and TV monitors on the streets will broadcast the service. Public prayer will happen in New York on Sept. 11.

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