American flags—343, one for each fallen member of the FDNY on 9/11—were processed in dignified formation into St. Patrick’s Cathedral at a solemn memorial service in commemoration of the terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
The mid-afternoon service in Manhattan, sponsored by the FDNY, was offered Sept. 10, the day before the 15th anniversary. Also remembered were the 127 FDNY members who have died since 9/11 due to illnesses related to their work in the rescue and recovery effort at the World Trade Center.
The backdrop of the riveting entrance procession and posting the colors—the renowned red, white and blue— included “Fanfare for the Common Man,” by Aaron Copland, and “Feierlicher Einzug (Solemn Entry),” by Richard Strauss, presented by the New York Symphonic Brass and the Cathedral Choir with Organist.
“Members of the New York Fire Department, you hardly need a welcome here at St. Patrick’s, for this is the home of the one who preached, ‘Greater love than this no one has than to lay down his life for another,’” said Cardinal Dolan, who delivered the welcome and invocation as well as the reflection and final blessing.
“You, New York Fire Department, are among those Jesus was describing. And we honor and revere you for that.”
“We will not forget,” Cardinal Dolan said. “And we take solace, dear Lord, from our belief in you,” God who remembers, “and who has a special benevolence for those heroes who help you protect your people, that you bring home those who die in the line of duty, that you soothe those who cry and wonder why.”
The service drew family and friends of the deceased, and numerous dignitaries and civic and elected leaders, including U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch; Mayor Bill de Blasio; Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, and Chief of Department James Leonard.
Also participating in the service were numerous FDNY Chaplains, including Msgr. John Delendick, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Father Christopher Keenan, O.F.M.
A letter from President Barack Obama was read. Mayor de Blasio and Fire Commissioner Nigro delivered reflections, and Department Chief Leonard gave a remembrance.
“To all the members of the FDNY here, you know that courage and duty are not just words to anyone who serves in the FDNY,” Mayor de Blasio said. “They are a code of honor that you live by every single day. And you make us so proud, and you give us such a sense of gratitude as New Yorkers.
“We saw that code of honor in action 15 years ago—the entire world saw such bravery as that code was lived up to. So many people have gathered here because we wanted to acknowledge those heroes, and we wanted to provide our embrace for these families.”
The FDNY on 9/11, the mayor said, showed selflessness and courage. “They rushed to danger, not from it. They carried others on their backs and never turned their backs on others. They were there for us on 9/11, and they—and generations before—have been there for us for 150 years. They are there for us today. They will be there for us tomorrow.”
A highlight of the service, as a special tribute in memory of the fallen heroes, was a scroll of honor depicting the names, ranks and photographs of the deceased, projected on a screen in the sanctuary.
That personally resonated with Father Thomas Colucci, reportedly the first firefighter of the FDNY to become a priest for the archdiocese. Ordained this past May at age 60, Father Colucci is serving as a parochial vicar at St. Mary, Mother of the Church parish in Fishkill.
“The Lord has given me two wonderful careers,” he said, in the fire department and in the priesthood. “They’re not two separate entities,” rather, they’re “wonderfully connected.” And for that he is happy, humbled and blessed, he said.
A number of Father Colucci’s FDNY comrades perished on 9/11. “I pray for these guys every day; every Mass that I offer, I pray for them,” he said.
He is confident, though, that they are in heaven—“they’re up there, having a great time,”—and so he prays for their families here on earth.
“God is here, among the people who turned out today,” Father Colucci said. “He was there that day in the rescuers,” through those who helped others without hesitation. “He was there…when the towers came down….He’s here today, in the body of Christ.
“It’s a great crowd,” Father Colucci added of those assembled for the cathedral service. “The good people in New York, they’ll never forget it. They’ll always come back.”
Msgr. Delendick delivered a prayer for the 15th anniversary; Rabbi Potasnik delivered a prayer of consolation and hope, and Father Keenan delivered a prayer for the fallen. Other FDNY chaplains lit candles in memory of those who perished. The Rev. Robert Stearns sang “Ave Maria” and “On Eagle’s Wings.” The Brooklyn Children’s Chorus sang “One Voice.”
Children of the fallen also delivered remembrances: Debra Lauro and Kristie Perrotta, daughters of Battalion Chief Joseph Grzelak from Battalion 48 who died on Sept. 11, 2011, and John Garret McNamara, son of firefighter John McNamara from Engine 234, who died on Aug. 29, 2009.
Cardinal Dolan, in the reflection and final blessing, again recalled “those who died and those who were harmed,” those whom God embraces, who also include “those who miss and mourn them” as well as the firefighters, emergency workers, rescue workers, and police, those “who keep us safe from another 9/11…all of those part of what we call 9/12.” He commended the resilience, resolve, renewal, rebuilding, those who “restored our city and our country.”
“May God bless you, and may God bless America. Go in peace.”
The ceremony concluded after the closing song “God Bless America,” performed by the FDNY Singers and the recessional hymn, “God of Our Fathers,” by the Choir of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.