Thursday, September 3, 2009

A day for reflection on 9/11

Let me begin at the beginning.

This morning we concelebrated at different Masses at the nearby St Francis Franciscan Church, as we have been doing every morning since arriving in New York. The friars have made us very welcome.

This "National Shrine of Saint Anthony" is situated at 135 West 31st Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues. There is also an entrance on 32nd Street but if you enter by the 31st Street entrance in the morning you will find a large number of men being fed and provided with tea/coffee. I learnt that this provision of food and drink has been going on every day since 1929 without a break.

There is a very devotional atmposphere amongst the faithful. The morning Masses are well attended. On Monday and Tuesday mornings the Friars bless the people with the relics of St Anthony and St Jude respectively and all the people line up to have the relics placed on their forheads.

There is all-day exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the crypt chapel and many people pop in and kneel before Our Eucharistic Lord, some raising their hands, others praying more modestly.

This shrine is also the place where Father Mychal Judge, the friar chaplain to the NY Fire Department who lost his life on 9/11, lived. One of the Friars, Fr Tom, told me that he knew Fr Mychal when he (Fr Tom) was still a teenager. West 31st Street has been named after Fr Mychal:

There is also a memorial to him in the church:

The above plaque reads:
Three pieces of steel from the tangled debris of the World Trade Center were entrusted to the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi following the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which killed 2,751 people. This memorial to all the victims, including Fr Mychal Judge OFM, a New York Fire Department Chaplain, and Carol LaPlante, a Secular Francisan and parishioner, summons the grief and unspeakable sadness of that tragic morning. A single golden rose rises gently from the mass of contorted steel and transends the senseless brutality with an enduring promise of hope.
After breakfast we caught the E subway line to World Trade Centre to visit Ground Zero.

There is an observation point within the World Financial Centre.

The Fire Department's nearby office has become a memorial to all the Fire Department members who died in the rescue operation.

The above picture shows a poster with the photos and names of all the fire fighters who lost their lives. Along the wall is a huge bronge frieze with the names recorded in rank order below a representation of the events of 9/11.

Among the firefighters I noticed one called Michael Boyle. We are probably not related but I offered a particular prayer for him. The host of Irish and Italian names was quite remarkable.

And of course Father Mychal Judge was included.
Whilst standing in front of the memorial, I noticed a man who removed the baseball cap from the head of one of his two sons. After a brief moment, he made the sign of the Cross.

Next door is the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. This is an extremely moving and simply put together memorial consisting of a multi-media presentation of personal testimonies from survivors, articles found in the debris, a host of 'missing' notices etc. In one of the videos people describe the community atmosphere within the WTC. Many people met their future wives/husbands there.

Here's what one plane passenger said to his loved one before the impact:

and a collection of photos of those who perished:

A video displaying all the names takes four and a half hours to get through the list.

In this Centre I wept. Something about the patriotism of the American people was very touching. I think America is also at heart a religious nation. The video presentation on the rescue operation was extremely sensitive about the recovery of bodies, or parts of bodies, from the smouldering ruins. Every time a body or part of one was recovered, silence was observed and prayer offered as the body was removed with dignity on a Fire Department stretcher draped with the American flag. The Visitor Center is a permanent record of great heroism and stoicism.

One thing which is noticeable is that not a mention is made of the perpetrators of this terrible act. Everything focuses on the people directly involved. No doubt some will dismiss it as an attempt at propaganda. For my own part, I know that America is not a perfect nation or a nation of saints. But it is a great nation. It is also a hugely influential nation in the world, with the possibility of being a force for good or a force for evil. I would urge prayer for this nation that it may be a force for good.

(And had President Bush not declared a war on terror, nor gone into Iraq, perhaps he would be remembered as a great president.)

If you visit New York, do not fail to visit Ground Zero.


  1. But history WILL judge GWB as a great president. I don't know anyone who did not think we'd be attacked again after 9/11. Kept the terrorists off our home soil after 9/11, and righted the wrong that had been done in the Clinton years with NOT allowing the CIA and FBI to "talk to each other." Don't forget Churchill was also a despised man in the 30s, and an ungrateful lot held him responsible in the election after the war.

    Your post is very moving. I do know one person from my days on whom I'd also met had lost his sister in the Twin Towers that awful day. And a distant cousin of mine was lucky enough to make it out.

  2. I was just in the city today. If you get a chance before you head off, you should really visit the Pierpoint Morgan Library which has a fantastic exhibit of illuminated manuscripts on right now.

    They have the most significant collection of manuscripts in the U.S. and their finest examples are on display. It took me nearly 2 hours to walk through the whole bit.

  3. I bet it's also hotter than Hades right now. I bet somewhere in the city they have those nice white shirts with the clerical collars. And stock up on electronic goodies too. They cost a lot less here than there. I just scored a 4G flash drive for 10 bucks the other day.

    What other sights have you see this week?

    I do hope you figured out the way to get New Yorkers to do your bidding: In case you haven't simply blurt out what you want first.

    i.e. to ask for directions don't say: "Excuse me sir? Sir? Ma'am, excuse me but." to have them walk by. The correct way is "hey buddy, am I headed right for Houston street? [etc]" then they will take you there because they know what you want and that you are not a) a panhandler b) a 3 card monte man.

    :-D Then they are the nicest people in the world.

  4. Yes it is very moving I went to NYC for my 40th birthday..ahem..nearly 7 years ago!


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