The Catholic Church and 9/11

A Pillar reading (and watching) list

Most people who are old enough remember exactly where they were when they heard about the planes crashing on September 11, 2001. And most people know how much changed after the attacks.

Catholics experienced that day alongside their fellow Americans, and the Church was part of the mourning and recovery that came after. The Pillar brings you a few Catholic voices, and Catholic stories, from September 11, and everything that came after.

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‘Evil and death do not have the final say’

At his general audience on Sept. 12, 2001, Pope St. John Paul II expressed his “profound sorrow” over the attacks of the day before.

“Yesterday was a dark day in the history of humanity, a terrible affront to human dignity. After receiving the news, I followed with intense concern the developing situation, with heartfelt prayers to the Lord. How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people. But faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail. Christ’s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit. Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Christian hope is based on this truth; at this time our prayerful trust draws strength from it.”

Read his message for the United States here.

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A Pennsylvania field

This is cool. Watch a 10-year time lapse documenting construction of the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

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‘Dear Dad, I just missed meeting you’

At an interdenominational prayer service in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sept. 11, 2011, members of the New York Fire Department remembered the firefighters killed at the World Trade Center, and those who died from related illnesses in the years after.

Patrick Mate Lyons, 9 years old, remembered his father, a firefighter who died on 9/11:

Every September 11, we go to your firehouse, Squad 252, for a Mass. We get to eat lots of donuts, and see the firetruck. I see it every year, and every year, I think it’s so cool.

On your birthday, the Lyons family gets together and we celebrate you. I send a baseball and football balloon up to Heaven to make you happy.

I think it is really cool that you were such a brave firefighter and that you died saving lots of people's lives.

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‘A true healing process had begun’

Msgr. Anthony Sherman was a Brooklyn pastor in September 2001. In 2013, he composed his memories of a city parish on September 11.

We decided to have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. People flocked to the church. It was here that we had the initial contact with a newly married man at whose wedding I had presided. His wife would never be found. She had called her husband on her cell phone to announce the plane headed for her office. The evening before, she had announced she was with child. Another mother from the parish would never be found, and the body of a father who was a policeman would eventually be found. We held many funerals for police and fire persons who gave their lives.

Monsignor Sherman also recounted visiting Ground Zero in 2008 with Pope Benedict XVI.

I stood at Ground Zero as Pope Benedict lit a candle and then knelt in quiet prayer for a few moments. He was surrounded by so many that had lost loved ones. His presence, however, gradually brought a sense of peace that was hard to describe. The wounds were still there but a true healing process had begun.

Read his memories here.

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‘May she lead them to hope’

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark preaches September 8, 2021, at a Mass of Remembrance in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

The Mother of God is also called the sorrowful mother. May she comfort those who are overwhelmed in sadness as they remember 9/11. May she lead them to hope. A hope that has a name and a face: Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

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The only plane in the sky

Ok, ok, it’s not an explicitly Catholic resource, but we’ve always found this oral history of the White House on 9/11 to make for fascinating reading.

Whatever your politics, you’ll probably find this interesting.

‘God never abandoned us at Ground Zero’

Fr. Brian Jordan, OFM, tells the story of the “Ground Zero Cross.”

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‘We have to look beyond ourselves’

Monsignor Ed Coyle was a Pennsylvania National Guard chaplain when a plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11. He spent the next 30 days counseling military families as the fires were put out, and as crews searched for survivors. Msgr. Coyle told The Pillar his experiences were too personal for much talk with journalists. But he did recently talk with a reporter from a local newspaper. Read about him here.

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‘We seek your light and guidance’

Pope Benedict XVI visited Ground Zero on April 20, 2008. He knelt to pray. He greeted firefighters, survivors, and family members. And he led the city in prayer.

You can watch complete video of the visit here.

The prayer of Pope Benedict XVI:

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 fire fighters, 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.