It is hard to believe that it was fifteen years ago this weekend that our nation suffered the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Like many people who have memories of that day we remember exactly where we were when we heard the initial reports coming in of such a devastating tragedy. I was in the Seminary at the time and between Morning Prayer and the first class of the day some of the seminarians were watching the news in one of the living rooms and I remember coming out of my room with books in hand and seeing the beginning of the news coverage. At that time there was no real understanding of what exactly was going on – reports of a plane flying into a building, it seemed, at first, to be a tragic accident. By the time I got back upstairs from our first class of the day the awful reality had dawned, this was no accident, but a deliberate act of terror. We sat glued to the television until it was time for Mass and I remember the fervent prayers that were offered up that day, as well as the desire for the Lord to protect our nation. In an unfortunate twist of events the seminary phone system had gone down and before the common use of cell phones this was a huge difficulty since no one could contact his family directly or swiftly. And then there was the utter silence of the skies. Our seminary is located near Mitchell Airport and you would grow used to the sound of the planes taking off and landing, sometimes passing right over the seminary building, but that day and for a few days thereafter there were no planes and suddenly the silence felt pregnant and frightening.
Along with these memories, however, are other memories of how, in the midst of the tragedy people turned to each other for comfort and strength and, more importantly, they turned to God – packing churches, lighting candles, praying in the silence of their hearts. And even though it is fifteen years after the event, we should still turn to God for protection as we fight more outbreaks of terrorism and more innocent people fall victims to those who are angry and deluded by a false notion of God and religion. We should turn to God and pray for those who lost loved ones on that day. We should pray to God for the repose of the souls of those who were killed that day and were caught unaware by death. Below is a prayer that Pope Benedict XVI prayed at Ground Zero on April 20, 2008. Perhaps we can pray it this weekend ourselves:
"O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here -- the heroic first responders: our firefighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.
We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness. 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.
We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.
God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the Earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events. Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all."