Leave it to a politician to get it exactly wrong.
Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, has decreed that the memorial service marking the 10th anniversary of the most significant event to strike this nation perhaps since the death of JFK will be religion free.
We can understand the impulse to ban politicians. Turning such an event into a campaign photo-op would be terrible. But we can’t fathom why he wants to ban first responders and religious leaders.
To ban religious leaders from praying at such a solemn occasion is to ignore the fact that 9/11 was an event of tremendous spiritual significance. And because it remains a wound in the national psyche, the response to it must be more than politics or rhetorical bromides. Everyone who was of age when the towers fell remembers the images, and where they were when they first saw those pictures. For those at ground zero, it was something more. Those who risked all, and gave all, that day made sacrifices that are best understood in spiritual terms. They were willing to lay down their lives for those they did not know. Some who survived had their lives changed, like Paul Carris, who rescued a disabled woman from the crumbling towers. He set off on a religious journey that resulted in him being ordained a deacon (see story, Page 14).
Others made the ultimate sacrifice, like Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan who was hearing confessions and comforting victims until he was killed by falling debris. But it was not just Catholics who were changed. Men and women of all faiths died in those buildings, and men and women of all faiths rushed in and tried to save them.
The need for religious leaders to give a spiritual reflection on this anniversary is all the more important because the men who plotted and who carried out this scurrilous assault on civilians did so for ostensibly religious reasons. Theirs was a twisted and murderous rationale clothed in piety, but religion has been unduly blamed for the agenda of fanatics. It is both fitting and necessary that religious men and women reject al-Qaida’s blasphemous intent and deed.
Sept. 11, 2001, is seared into the nation’s consciousness, and the appropriate tribute should be profound, heartfelt, and reflective of a solemnity and a wisdom that is at its depth religious. Clergy of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths should be allowed to speak at this memorial.
It is also appropriate that on this 10th anniversary, after two wars launched in retaliation for this attack and the deaths of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis, America uses this moment to reflect on the continuing bitter fruits of this act of war.
In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln used spare and eloquent words to reflect on the religious significance of another terrible event in the nation’s history. He concluded with these words:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
It is wrong, if not tragic, that on the anniversary of 9/11, no religious leaders at ground zero will be able to echo Lincoln’s sentiments in prayer.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.