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WASHINGTON—The Catholic Church Remembers, a website to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11, will highlight people’s firsthand experiences of pain and hope from the disaster. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will launch the site August 12.
The site at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/september-11/ includes six video vignettes, including recollections of Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop-emeritus of New York. He became intimately involved in the tragedy moments after it happened – when New York Mayor Giuliani called and asked him to head for St. Vincent’s Hospital.
Thus began soul-searing days tending to the sick on stretchers and anointing bodies pulled from smoldering rubble where the Twin Towers fell. Cardinal Egan also speaks movingly of Ground Zero, which he dubs “Ground Hero,” the funeral Masses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the priests pressed into service that day.
“If I had to sum up 9/11, I would say it was a time in which people taught this nation and the world how to be strong and how to be willing to sacrifice themselves for others,” he says in one video. “It was a terrible tragedy, it was a crime, but it was a magnificent manifestation of courage and willingness to sacrifice self.”
He describes finding closure at Ground Zero with Pope Benedict XVI in April 2008, as the pope met with victims’ families, lit a candle and prayed.
“There was so much goodness there that the evil was, I think, not only conquered, it was smothered,” Cardinal Egan says.
The website also includes video of Chaplain Donald Rutherford, a two-star general and Catholic priest now head of all U.S. military chaplains. He is based at the Pentagon, where terrorists flew a plane into the building on 9/11. He describes the effect on young soldiers.
Before 9/11, he says, “it was kind of a carefree world where you never had been attacked before. I think now it says that we’re all vulnerable .… We look at the young soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that we work with everyday …. they are a faithful people. We saw their faith grow that day.”
The website also hosts individual reflections of several people impacted that day.
Lt. Col. Shareda Hosein, U.S. Army Reserves, a woman Muslim chaplain, immediately afterwards was both applauded for her military service and scorned for her Muslim dress.
“I feel the resiliency of my faith as the biggest strength in helping build bridges of understanding with my fellow Americans. I have persevered with patience, a loving kindness, non-judgment and taken a stand to live in a pluralistic America that has liberty and justice for all no matter what race, gender, religion or personal affiliation.”
Beverly and Thomas Burnett, Sr., saw their son Thomas Burnett, Jr., and others “drafted unknowingly as the first citizen-soldiers in the war on terrorism,” they said.
“Little more than one hour into the war, America won its first battle against terrorism,” the couple said. They described their son speaking via cell phone to his wife of a plan to take back a hi-jacked plane and his last words: “We’re going to do something.” Young Burnett and others died fighting terrorists over the skies of Shanksville, Pennsylvania and brought down a plane thought to be headed for the nation’s capital.
New York City firefighter Kenneth Zaveckas, who lost 343 firefighter brothers – 24 of them close friends – when the Twin Towers imploded, asks why he was let live. He was on loan from Manhattan to a unit in Brooklyn, the only borough unit ordered to stay there to protect another suspected target, the Hasidic community. Zaveckas later retired early from the fire department because of lung damage from rescue work at the site.
“I still try to figure out what God was thinking and why I deserved to be spared twice that day.”
Jesuit Father James Martin, culture editor of America magazine, aided rescue workers.
“In this hell I found grace,” he said. “I thought ‘what is God like? God is like the firefighter who rushes into a burning building to save someone. That’s how much God loves us.’ And I saw this love expressed in the great charity of all the rescue workers who gathered at the American Golgotha.”
Msgr. Anthony Sherman, a Brooklyn pastor, led funerals for parishioners lost in the inferno. There were firefighters, and a woman whose marriage he had officiated at a year before, and who had announced on 9/10 that she was pregnant.
“9/11 led us all into the very depths of the mysteries of human suffering, death and resurrection. We discovered that we cannot obtain nor find all the answers to the atrocities we experienced. Yet with God’s grace we also experienced the height of human sacrifice and the ability of our brothers and sisters to manifest heroic love.”
Franciscan Father Joseph Bayne, chief chaplain of New York’s Erie County Emergency Services, traveled from Buffalo, New York, to support his fellow rescue workers sent downstate.
“I did not see the devil’s face at Ground Zero. I saw the face of God in the people working, caring, sweating, crying, rescuing, recovering and being very spiritual in their very humanness.”
Paulist Father Paul Wierichs, a former chaplain to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, worked with the New York FBI office.
“People came together in unity that day. We can all remember where we were on 9/11 because we were all together.”
Keywords: 9/11, Cardinal Edward Egan, Chaplain Donald Rutherford, Ground Zero, Pope Benedict XVI, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Muslims, Thomas Burnett, Father James Martin, Msgr. Anthony Sherman
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