As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, New Yorkers will mark the day with ceremonies, prayers and solemn remembrances—recognizing the tremendous losses and shattered lives from the attacks at Ground Zero even as the site itself is rebuilt and reborn.
The day will bring the traditional gathering of family members reading the names of their deceased loved ones at the city’s memorial ceremony and the tolling of church bells at the moments that the two planes struck.
Sept. 11, 2011, also will see the dedication of the serene, tree-shaded 9/11 Memorial Plaza—with its two massive waterfalls and reflecting pools set within the footprints of the Twin Towers, designed to convey renewal and hope.
President Obama will speak at the ceremony, as will his predecessor George W. Bush, whose presidency was redefined by the events of 9/11. The current and former governors of New York and New Jersey, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, will be there as well.
None of them will make speeches, but will read selected lines of poetry in keeping with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s wish to keep the event solemn and non-political, and focused on the nearly 3,000 victims and their families.
Archbishop Dolan will celebrate the first of two Memorial Masses on Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the bells will toll for the dead.
“In a time of heightened tragedy,” the archbishop said, “the two things Americans did was pray and come to aid of people in need.”
And “once again, as we reflect 10 years later, we’ll be back praying,” he told CNY.
The archbishop will celebrate his second Mass of the day at 12:30 p.m. at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street, the World Trade Center parish. The homilist at that liturgy will be Cardinal Egan—who witnessed the towers’ collapse, prayed over the dead amid the rubble and comforted their families at funeral after funeral.
“I came away amazed at the goodness, the deep down goodness of so many of our fellow citizens,” said Cardinal Egan, reflecting recently about his experiences in that period.
“Many were nothing short of heroes,” he said in an interview. “Sometimes we cynically dismiss our fellow New Yorkers and our fellow Americans as sort of not much committed to the things that we should all have in our hearts. But we certainly saw heroism, self-sacrifice, compassion and courage. And that, to me, is the most important observation about 9/11.”
Former President Bush, sharing his feelings and experiences in a televised interview, said that 9/11 “changed my presidency,” turning him into a wartime president—“something I never anticipated, nor something I ever wanted to be.”
“Eventually, September 11 will be a day on the calendar,” Bush said. “For those of us who lived through it, it’ll be a day that we’ll never forget.”
Former Mayor Giuliani, who led the city through the 9/11 trauma and response, will reflect on the experience in a talk Sept. 9 at the Manhattan College, a Lasallian Catholic college in the Bronx, where he was a member of the Class of 1965.
There have been milestones on the 10-year journey to Sept. 11, 2011.
The most recent one, and the most shocking and dramatic, was President Obama’s announcement that Osama bin-Laden, the al-Quada mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, was killed on May 2 by U.S. special forces in a covert operation at his Pakistan hideout.
Three years earlier, Pope Benedict XVI visited Ground Zero in a moving ceremony on April 20, 2008, where he read a special prayer he wrote for the occasion, asking God “to give eternal light and peace to all who died here…to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness…(and) heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.”
“Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope,” Pope Benedict prayed.
This year’s official ceremony is not without controversy, however, especially involving Mayor Bloomberg decision to exclude first responders and religious leaders from the ceremony as a way to keep it focused on the families.
The 9/11 first responders—firefighters, police officers and emergency medical workers—were honored, however, on Sept. 6 at a Special Recognition Ceremony sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York, the Council of Churches of the City of New York and the New York Board of Rabbis held at 7 World Trade Center, the 52-story building that opened in 2006 at the same address as one that was destroyed in the attacks.
And religious leaders and pastors will mark the day at their own churches and other houses of worship throughout the metropolitan area.
Because the 10th anniversary falls on a Sunday, Archbishop Dolan has given permission for pastors in the archdiocese to use formularies “fitting for the occasion,” including the Mass for Peace and Justice, the Mass for Time of War or Civil Disturbance or even, where appropriate, a Mass for the Dead.
Father Brian Jordan, O.F.M., who celebrated Masses for recovery workers at Ground Zero for 10 months after 9/11, is planning to be in the Rockaways, where many families lost loved ones, on the afternoon of Sept. 11, where he’ll lead a beachside service.
“You don’t have to be at Ground Zero to remember Ground Zero,” Father Jordan said.
The attacks on the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, were bolts from the blue that pierced the city’s heart, tested its courage and resolve and raised questions as to whether its people would ever recover.
Two hijacked planes smashed first into one and then the other tower in the space of 17 minutes on a beautiful late summer morning, carrying out the deadliest and most destructive of the three planned attacks on U.S. soil that day by al-Qaeda terrorists. Another plane struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth one, thought to be headed for the White House, went down in a Pennsylvania field after passengers attempted to retake control.
The death toll of 2,977 breaks down as: 2,753 in New York, 184 in Washington and 40 on the downed flight.
Father Mychal Judge, O.F.M., a beloved Fire Department chaplain from St. Francis of Assisi parish in Manhattan who responded to the scene, was the first confirmed victim.
The days, weeks and months that followed in New York were a nightmarish blur as rescue workers and volunteers braved the toxic dust that clouded the site to labor around the clock searching for survivors and remains. Families of the missing clung to hope and prayed for a miracle, while priests stood by to anoint the remains.
Father Emile Frische, M.H.M., archdiocesan coordinator for special and pastoral ministry, served for nearly eight months in 12-18 hour shifts at the temporary morgue at the site.
“It was tough, it was grueling, but it was also very, very life-giving,” he said. He spoke of the people he met and served with, the life stories they told that were “the good, the bad and the ugly,” and the respect given by those who listened.
“That was the beautiful part of it,” he said. “The smells, the freezing weather—you forget all of that once you see a fire captain saying, ‘Three more of ours coming home.’ And all they had were ashes.”
At the same time, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, was mobilizing his staff and facilities to address the multitude of needs of families and individuals displaced from their homes and jobs in lower Manhattan. From the earliest days after the attack, Catholic Charities had counselors stationed at the family support centers at St. Vincent’s Hospital and then at Pier 94; within weeks, Charities had transformed 14 of its locations into World Trade Center support sites.
The critical role of Catholic Charities in providing services was evidenced in the choice of Msgr. Sullivan to chair the 9/11 United Services Group. This coalition of 13 human service agencies and networks coordinated services to the victims of the 9/11 attacks so that as much of the red tape as possible could be broken through to get families the help they needed.
Cardinal Egan, in his interview with CNY, had praise for Msgr. Sullivan who, the cardinal said, took it upon himself to supply six months of wages lost by kitchen and dining room workers at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the north tower of the World Trade Center. Most of them, the cardinal said, were immigrants and minorities.
“That’s just a lovely doff of the hat, I thought,” the cardinal said, “and very, very beautiful.”
Catholic laypersons, too, pitched in and stayed with it.
Joseph P. Delaney, director of the Notre Dame Club of Staten Island, was in the World Trade Center the first time it was the target of a terrorist attack in February 1993.
On 9/11, which happened to be his 30th wedding anniversary, he was at the accounting firm where he works at the World Financial Center, just west of the Twin Towers, when the first plane struck on that Tuesday morning. He stayed nearly a week, helping to evacuate his own building and assisting his colleagues and others in the aftermath.
“I had planned to be home early for my anniversary,” he said, “but I didn’t get there until Sunday morning. I felt that once my wife knew where I was, my place was alongside those who were suffering.”
Delaney said he was sustained by his knowledge that “Christ is with me.” He said he remembers thinking that “this is a day we won’t want to forget.”
With that in mind, he and his fellow Notre Dame Club officers have organized an Eve of Solemn Remembrance each year as a vigil at St. Peter’s Church on Staten Island before the 9/11 anniversaries. The aim, he said, is to offer the spiritual sustenance of the Catholic liturgy to those who suffered a loss.
“The wounds will never completely heal,” Delaney said, “but we try to provide some comfort and closure.”
Though it remains sacred ground as a place where so many innocent people perished, the Ground Zero site today is bustling with activity—its landscape filled with construction cranes and hard-hat workers pushing to complete One World Trade Center, the symbolically sized, 1,776-foot-tall office tower that will serve as a centerpiece and anchor.
Sightseers are everywhere, crowding the narrow downtown streets and lining up for appointments to enter the memorial plaza, which is scheduled to open to the public Sept. 12.
A companion museum to the plaza is due for completion in 2014, although parts of it will be open to the public before that. Among the exhibits will be the iconic Ground Zero Cross made of two steel beams found standing in the Twin Towers wreckage. The cross was moved to the museum site in July from its temporary home at St. Peter’s Church.
St. Peter’s itself, whose roof was damaged by a landing gear that fell on it from one of the hijacked planes, has been able to complete a restoration of the 1840 church that was planned before 9/11.
It’s just in time for a rebirth of the Tribeca/downtown area as a family neighborhood, with a resulting rebirth of parish life, said the pastor, Father Kevin Madigan. “From death, comes life,” he said.
“We saw a lot of death here, but we saw a lot of heroism too,” he added. “We saw good side-by-side with evil.”