'Have Mercy on Us and on the Whole World'
Marians Remember 9/11 on the Fifth Anniversary of the Terrorist Attacks
Where were you on Sept. 11, 2001? Undoubtedly, you remember. You remember seeing footage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center in New York City, smoke rising from the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the smoldering ruins of a jet airplane that had crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
You remember the fear of not knowing what would happen next. You probably prayed. You probably visited a church. You probably understood like never before that without God in our hearts, without His unfathomable mercy to guide us and save us, we are all lost.
This Sept. 11th, as the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., prepared to celebrate a special Holy Mass at 11 a.m. in memory of the victims of 9/11, several Marians shared their own memories of that terrible day.
Fr. Matthew Lamoureux, MIC, was in Washington, D.C. It was at the start of his second year in the seminary, at the Dominican House of Studies.
"I remember I was a little late for my 9 a.m. class. I was running up the stairs to class. I noticed the receptionist had a little TV on, and I noticed on the TV that smoke was coming from the World Trade Center. At the time they thought that a small plane had crashed into the building. I just thought, 'Well, I'll pray for the people who died.'
"Then during a break in our class, we all gathered around the television. They were replaying the footage from when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. We were all in shock. Then all these rumors started circulating. I remember one of the rumors was that a bomb had gone off at the State Department. Then we learned that the Pentagon was attacked. It was difficult to discern what was real and what wasn't.
"The teachers asked us if we wanted to finish class. We agreed to finish it. Afterwards, everyone gathered around the television again. I saw my fellow Marian, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. He said to me: 'They're down. The towers fell!'
"The newscasters were reporting that another plane was heading for D.C. At that point, I remember one of the Dominican seminarians went to have his confession heard. He wanted to make himself right with God. It was all a strange and eerie feeling. Here we were, three miles from the Capitol. We weren't sure if the attack was to continue. Several of us stepped outside and looked up at the skies. Then Fr. Donald and I went up to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. From the top of the steps, you could see the smoke from the Pentagon. We just watched and prayed.
"I remember praying for all those who died, and praying for the terrorists, too. May the Lord have mercy on their souls, because they needed it more than anyone. Jesus told St. Faustina that 'The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy' (Diary of St. Faustina, 723). Of course, we need justice. But as the Lord says, "Vengeance is mine" (Rom 12:19-21).
"After seeing all this destruction and violence on TV, I remember just thinking that we — all of us — need to seek consolation and peace through God. That's the only way. Prayer. That's the key.
"Immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, our nation underwent a great upswing of faith. We realized how fragile we all are, and how fleeting life could be. We put God first. I remember hearing how so-called 'reality TV' would be put out of business. But that feeling only lasted a few months, and we eventually slipped back into our old ways. It's disappointing. And the Lord may have to allow for something else to happen to shake us and give us a new perspective, because He doesn't want us to be lost in our sin. That's not to say God caused September 11th. But He permitted it. He allowed it. God does not cause evil, but He allows it a certain amount of reign because He knows that even out of evil, great good can come.
"Saint Paul taught us that where sin abounds, grace abounds the more (see Rom 5:20). For me, Sept. 11, 2001 was a reaffirmation of the need to turn to God. Only through Him, can peace be achieved — within our hearts and with one another. We can't take things for granted. We need to reform our lives.
"One more thing: Two days after the attacks I received an e-mail from a friend of mine from college. He wrote of another friend of ours named Greg, saying, 'It's a shame what happened to Greg.' Greg died in the World Trade Center.
"Just a couple months before Sept. 11, I remember Greg telling me about his office in the World Trade Center and the great view he had way up high. He was still dating his girlfriend from college. He said he was going to propose to her soon. I had asked him about his faith, and he told me how his girlfriend had been a great influence on him.
"I went to his funeral. I remember putting the prayercard from his funeral up on my mirror in my room. Then, on All Souls Day — I'm almost certain it was on All Souls Day — I was standing there, and the prayercard just fell and hit my hand. It was more than a mere coincidence. It was a reminder to me to pray for Greg's soul."
Brother Andy Davy, MIC, Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC , and Fr. Mark Baron, MIC, were also in Washington, D.C., on the day of the terrorist attacks.
"After the first plane hit, all my classes were immediately canceled," says Fr. Anthony. "I then watched the other planes hit from our television in the Marian Scholasticate. After that, all airspace was closed, except for two F-16 fighter jets circling the city. I kept looking at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (since this is such a visible target), thinking that the terrorists may attack Our Lady's Church.
"Everyone was in a state of shock for about a month afterwards," Fr. Anthony continues. "It was difficult going to classes and pretending that life was normal. We need to see the 9/11 crisis in light of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross brings us hope because we know that there is a resurrection to follow. The charity and unity of this country after the attacks bespeaks the resurrection. In the midst of tragedy, Americans responded with heroic charity and generosity.
"We need to keep turning to Divine Mercy to heal us individually and as a country," he says. "Divine Mercy flows through wounds of Jesus on the cross. Mercy flows through our 9/11 wounds on the cross. But Mercy brings healing. Let us recall Jesus'
words to St. Faustina: 'Makind will not have peace, until it turns with trust to My Mercy" (Diary, 300).
"I remember being in class at Catholic University when I heard of the attack on the World Trade Center," says Br. Andy. "Smoke could be seen in the distance from the Pentagon. Class was immediately cancelled and the Bishops from around the country (who were just happening to be meeting in D.C. that day) called an emergency Mass in the Basilica. The Basilica was filled to the brim with people, some crying, some in shock, but all taking their prayers to God very seriously.
"In the midst of this horror, I saw the power of the Gospel found in fullness in the Catholic Church," says Br. Andy. "It is amazing to see how people in this crisis turned to the only One who could help them make sense of all this: The Divine Mercy, Himself."
Father Mark, too, was in class when the World Trade Center was attacked. "It was very surreal," he recalls. "I sat there all day in stunned silence watching the events unfold on TV. I went to that special Mass organized by the Bishops. I felt two things: The first is being thankful that I could find shelter in Mother Church. The second was being happy that I was a religious committed to God. If I were to have died that day, I would have been glad that I had given my life to His Church.
Father David Lord, MIC, was living in Ohio where he served as the Rector and the Superior of the Marians' House of Studies in Steubenville.
"We had just finished Mass," he recalls. "I remember it was a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky. I was in the my study, and one of the postulants came to me and said, 'Padre, come quick to the TV!' They were showing footage of the World Trade Center after the first plane had hit it.
"Just as I was stepping into the lounge where the TV was, I saw on live TV the second airplane strike the tower, and I remember thinking, 'My God, have mercy. Have mercy on us and on the whole world.'
"After watching all this unfold, I remember saying to the students, 'We can't just sit all day long in front of the television.' So I said to them: 'Let's go to chapel.' So we went to our little chapel in our house, and I exposed the Blessed Sacrament. Then we let the word get out to the neighborhood, so that by mid-morning the chapel was jammed with people coming in.
"So then, I took counsel with my Marian brothers, and we decided to have a Mass at 5 o'clock in the evening for the souls of those who perished. And again, the chapel was jam-packed with people — all the way out onto the porch.
"I remember, I didn't watch the TV all day because I felt that where we needed to be was in front of the Blessed Sacrament — near the only Power who could, in our need, rescue us from this danger that we found ourselves in. So in response, in grief, we called on the Lord. I remember that very clearly.
"Now five years later, there's still so much fear in the world. So much fear that 9/11 gives witness to. And that fear — of each other and ourselves — in quite Shakespearean terms, 'constrains' the quality of God's mercy. What the world needs us to do is just what our Lord told St. Faustina to do: to trust Him (see Diary of St. Faustina, 300). Trust in God's mercy 'unconstrains' His mercy.
"Instead of airplanes being flown into buildings, if we let the fear be set free by His mercy, we'd be talking to each other and having communion with each other, and we'd be respecting our differences, and we'd see in each other the image and likeness of God. It would help us to see that we are not the sum total of our weaknesses, our fears, and our hatreds, but we're in the image and likeness of God. As Shakespeare said, 'The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.' The One who gives is the Lord Himself.
"Maybe the lesson of 9/11 is that we should take the mercy He offers us from His outstretched, wounded hand and find that communion with each other that will advance the true harmony of mankind. And maybe the tears that we shed will prepare us for the renewal of our humanity, from the inside out.
"Finally, as Pope John Paul II said: 'Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that
no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope. Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son'" (World Youth Day homily, July 28, 2002).
"This is our time of hope," says Fr. David.
Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, too, was in Steubenville.
"It was a day of looking at the television and trying to conceive the tragedy of it all, watching people jump from the windows high above on the World Trade Center. We all prayed, all day, for the victims and their families. I remember praying and watching, praying and watching.
"I remember those buildings. I used to take people there all the time. It was a beautiful spot. So, personally, I knew the spot and liked the spot, and I brought a lot of Marians and other visitors there. When the towers collapsed, it was very painful. I later learned that one of the casualties was a cousin of mine.
"I remember thinking that day, 'Why would anyone want to do this?' The hate has to be so great. The misunderstanding has to be so great. And for me, being of Polish background, I knew the history of battles between Christians and Muslims. We, in Poland, border the Muslims. There were so many incursions and battles that took place over the centuries. So I remember thinking that day, on 9/11, that this wasn't a one-time reality. This was the beginning of a long-term battle.
"I knew that the date of Sept. 12 was the date when the Christians defeated the Muslims in the famous Battle of Vienna in 1683, under the guidance of King Jan Sobieski. After this battle, the Muslims started falling back and were pushed out of Europe, and their importance diminished. To my thinking, Sept. 11, 2001, was the beginning of a new thrust of taking over. That, to me, was very clear. Some Muslim extremists were intent on hitting the centers of our power — the financial base in New York, our military power at the Pentagon, and, we presume, an attempt on the White House, the center of Western power.
"There's no way to rationalize this action, no matter what their goals were. Evil is evil. So how do we protect ourselves? We have to know truth. We have to have clarity, and clarity comes from God. Through God, we can learn how we have erred in some way as a nation and as individuals.
"Yes, we have to protect ourselves. We also have to look at the things that weaken us as a nation. We might not be able to withstand this confrontation unless we do. And anything that is not of God, that is sinful and morally destructive, will hurt us in the long run. We have a responsibility to God and to each other.
"Finally, I see so much hope in the commitment of our soldiers who are serving overseas. I'm not speaking about the military strategy of our nation here; I'm talking about the soldiers themselves. They, truly, are heroes. They are willing to die, or be maimed, in order to protect others. That's an incredibly great virtue of love of neighbor. That's the kind of response that is pleasing to God — that kind of sacrifice, made by choice, and made out of love. In more ways than one, these soldiers strengthen us.