Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Feast of faith: The Lord's Prayer

When we ask God to forgive us as we
forgive others, we are seeking forgiveness
and purity of heart before we approach the
altar to receive the sacrament of the
Lord’s body and blood. (Credit:
By Corinna Laughlin

The Eucharistic Prayer ends with the great “Amen,” the acclamation of assent by the assembly. Then the communion rite begins with the Lord’s Prayer. We pray this prayer in many contexts, both inside and outside the church’s liturgy. Here, in the context of the Mass, the Lord’s Prayer is profoundly Eucharistic.

When we ask for our "daily bread," we are asking for the gift of the Eucharist. When we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others, we are seeking forgiveness and purity of heart before we approach the altar to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood — "so that what is holy may, in fact, be given to those who are holy" (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 81).

At Mass, a prayer for peace is inserted between the prayer and the doxology. In this prayer, called the embolism, the church asks God for freedom — freedom from sin and all anxiety and distress.

We are living in an in-between time; even as we rejoice in Christ’s presence, we await his coming in joyful hope.

Corinna Laughlin is pastoral assistant for liturgy at St. James Cathedral in Seattle. Reach her at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Looking ahead

In life, when sickness, tragedy and
even death come to us, God's
will can be found even there.
By Father Perry D. Leiker

"Doing the will of the Father" is clearly what our lives are about as Christians.

God’s daily invitations to us are our opportunities to hear his voice, walk in his love, discover his grace, and produce abundant fruit. The interesting thing is that very often, at least at first sight, his will seems completely contrary to our own. It is very often that trials and tribulations, sickness and suffering, frustration and failure are the very places where we discover that God is very present and "willing us" to more abundant life.

God never wills or wishes evil upon us. Most is man and/or woman made. Clearly, wars and financial woes are the result of selfishness and greed. Even natural disasters and global issues often are the result of our bad choices as nations or as a global community. It is God's will for us that we live as brothers and sisters. It is God's will for us that we help one another. It is God's will for us that we live justly; that is, everyone has the right and an opportunity to work, to make a living, to eat, to clothe and house their family. God's will for us gives life — it doesn’t take it.

In life, when sickness, tragedy and even death come to us, God's will can be found even there. Then he wills us to come home to him and find rest. For those that remain, he wills us to comfort one another and support one another as brothers and sisters — with love! Jesus teaches us that "words" are not enough.

Saying "yes" and not doing is not enough.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Looking ahead

When a person is spiritually
healed, this can help to
return the body to a healthy
balance, reduce stress
and bring about healing. (Credit:
In the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, do people actually get healed?

By Father Perry D. Leiker

There are different types of healing. Doctors tell us that much of sickness is psychosomatic; that is, in some way the mind (psyche) informs the body that it is not well and creates the illness or at least the symptoms of illness. The mind is very strong and powerful. In the best of spiritual traditions it has always been important to keep a healthy balance between body, mind, and spirit. Any imbalance can causes stress, or more correctly, disstress.

When a person is spiritually healed, this can help to return the body to a healthy balance, reduce stress and bring about healing. There are accounts of miraculous healing, but these are admittedly rare. Even if a person’s health continues to decline and they progress toward natural death, there can be profound healing that prepares a person for death — a "faith-filled" death experience. In these cases, one can feel that God is profoundly present in the struggle, in the suffering, in the dying.

God’s healing presence in illness can be profoundly encouraging and heal a person of doubt, fear, despair, and fill them with hope. It is always better to give a person who is ill a chance to experience this healing early in the illness. It is not extreme unction, and waiting is not advised. Through the anointing with oil we prayerfully celebrate an anointing with God’s Spirit — and this is always a healing event!

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Looking ahead

Care for your sick loved one by
anointing them in early illness.
Anointing of the sick

By Father Perry D. Leiker

Before the Second Vatican Council, we used to refer to the sacrament of the anointing of the sick as extreme unction. This unction or anointing was also a known as the last rites.

The common understanding was that near the moment of death, even in the last hour, it was then time to call the priest so that he could anoint the dying person. Often a person would be unconscious or not very alert. Some waited literally until the last moments to not scare the person.

Until modern times many people’s illnesses came on rather quickly, were short, and led to a quick death. Calling the priest often came without much warning. But the rite we have used since Vatican II even begins with this instruction, quoting the apostle James: “Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with the oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).

This is an era when illnesses extend sometimes for years; people spend significant time in convalescent care, and the pathway to death is able to be determined in advance almost to the hour. James’ words are more important than ever before. Early in an illness, or when someone arrives at the hospital or convalescent home, is the time to call the priest, who then has some reasonable time to arrange to anoint and give pastoral care to the sick

Don’t wait! Don’t risk calling the priest and not finding one available. Care for your sick loved one by anointing them in early illness. 

Father Perry D. Leiker is administrator of St. Bernard Parish. Reach him at (323) 255-6142.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A time for remembrance, resolve and renewal: Statement on the tenth anniversary of 9/11

Timothy Dolan
By Archbishop Timothy Dolan
president, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York; Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and at the Pentagon, it is a time for remembrance, resolve and renewal.

We reverently recall those who were most directly affected by this tragedy — those who died, were injured or lost loved ones. In a special way we recall the selfless first responders — firefighters, police, chaplains, emergency workers, and other brave persons — who risked, and many times lost, their lives in their courageous efforts to save others.

We also remember how our nation responded to the terrifying events of that day — we turned to prayer, and then turned to one another to offer help and support. Hands were folded in prayer and opened in service to those who had lost so much.

We resolve today and always to reject hatred and resist terrorism. The greatest resource we have in these struggles is faith. Ten years ago our Conference of Bishops issued a Pastoral Message, "Living With Faith and Hope After September 11," which drew on the rich resources of our Catholic faith to minister to our nation and world. The truth of that pastoral message still resonates today.

A decade later we remain resolved to reject extreme ideologies that perversely misuse religion to justify indefensible attacks on innocent civilians, to embrace persons of all religions, including our Muslim neighbors, and to welcome refugees seeking safety. We steadfastly refrain from blaming the many for the actions of a few and insist that security needs can be reconciled with our immigrant heritage without compromising either one.Gratefully mindful of the continuing sacrifices of the men and women in our armed forces, and their families, we also resolve to bring a responsible end to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This 10th anniversary of 9/11 can be a time of renewal. Ten years ago we came together across religious, political, social and ethnic lines to stand as one people to heal wounds and defend against terrorism. As we face today's challenges of people out of work, families struggling, and the continuing dangers of wars and terrorism, let us summon the 9/11 spirit of unity to confront our challenges. Let us pray that the lasting legacy of 9/11 is not fear, but rather hope for a world renewed.

In remembering the fateful events of Sept. 11, 2001, may we resolve to put aside our differences and join together in the task of renewing our nation and world. Let us make our own the prayer of Pope Benedict XVI when he visited Ground Zero in New York in 2008:

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. ...

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.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

The smoldering Pentagon as seen from
the roof of the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops on Sept. 11, 2001.
(CNS Photo/Bob Roller)
This week, we continue a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

A memoir of 9/11

By Meg C. DeBoe

Sept. 11, 2001, morning:

I was in class when I found out about the Twin Towers. We all thought it was a joke. "Someone needs to retrain the control tower — runways are horizontal, not vertical!" I found out about the Pentagon when I got home. I wish it had been a joke.

Classes have been cancelled for the rest of the day. We have had the TV on in the apartment since we got home, and — to this point — I am still not able to fully grasp the breadth of this. I have to go to the bathroom and I'm starving, but all I can do is stare at the TV.

An airplane just crashed somewhere in Pittsburgh. My roommate Sadrina was near hysterics because her mother lives there. She just called and found out she's OK, but phone lines are tied up making it difficult for loved ones to contact each other.

I called Dad at home in Alexandria, Virginia. He said he heard a small "pop" like a backfire, then police cars went screaming through the neighborhood towards D.C. Next he heard a really loud "bang" like a sonic boom that rattled all the windows in the house — fighter jets most likely.

I'm afraid for Tim. His mom works at the Pentagon, but he doesn't know which wing. The South wing was hit. No casualties have been reported yet.

Sept. 11, 2001, evening:

The television in our apartment has not been turned off for 12 hours. The coverage mostly repeats itself. Around 10 hours into the coverage we began flipping through the channels to see how many times CNN, NBC, CBS, or ABC popped up. Each station has its own unique title like "Attack on America," "America under Attack," and "Terror in America."

Tina's boyfriend, Dave, is in the Army reserves. He got a call today to be on standby. I saw him earlier today and he looked like he was in shock, just kind of wandering around campus. Tina's pretty freaked out too. She said she has had a nightmare with planes in it the past two nights. Yesterday, for no particular occasion, Dave gave her a silver, heart-shaped necklace with diamonds running down one side. She said she'd been clutching it all day long. I would be, too.

Tim's mom is OK. We're still not sure how many people died at the Pentagon.

Sept. 12, 2001, morning:

They are theorizing that the plane that crashed in Pittsburgh was heading for Camp David. They also think that the plane that hit the Pentagon may have been intended to hit the White House. I don't know about that one, because the rogue plane managed to hit the only wall of the Pentagon that was not yet fitted with a firewall.

They think that an Arabian terrorist group is responsible for these attacks. They've found flight manuals written in Arabic in cars belonging to the suspected hijackers. They've also found people who unwittingly trained them to fly; who say they seemed to have a lot of funds. Lots of other witnesses and facts all point to this same terrorist group. If it turns out to be this guy and his cohorts then we will most likely declare war on him and Afghanistan (they country he is staying in). America is gearing up for war and it is unnerving. It's almost incomprehensible. My generation has never been through a serious military conflict. The Gulf War was so far away and over so quickly. This is so ... close.

I'm listening to the radio and my buddy Jason Gore is the deejay. He is talking to a caller about the repercussions from all of this and how scary and surreal it all is. This is supposed to be the classic rock station. You just can't avoid this right now. Play a little Black Sabbath, talk about terrorists, play a little Alice Cooper, talk about terrorists. Talk about surreal ...

Sept. 12, 2001, evening:

Volunteers have come from everywhere and are working around the clock; Grabbing sleep, food, and water when they must and chomping at the bit to get back in to the wreckage to find survivors. God bless them.

Two more buildings have collapsed as a result of the towers falling; World Trade Towers No. 3 and No. 7. A couple of other buildings are threatening to collapse which sometimes pauses rescue efforts. It's all very frustrating.

I thanked God for cell phones today. Apparently several people on the planes that crashed were able to call loved ones on cell phones and say goodbye. They also have given us bits of information which can help us get a better picture of what happened on these planes. Also, people trapped in the rubble from the collapsed towers were able to call 911 and in that way rescuers are able to locate survivors and bring them to safety. Unfortunately, many callers can still not be reached and by the time they can be, there may not be anyone on the other end of the line anymore. It's so frustrating.

Sept. 11, 2011:

Ten years later I have a family of my own and two young children. Every year when Sept. 11 rolls around I wonder, what will I tell them about this day? When will they be old enough to hear about it? Will they be scared? Or worse, will it not affect them at all?

The week of Sept. 11, 2001, I prayed all day for the strength of those onsite participating in the rescue efforts. For the rest of that year I prayed every day for the victims that survived and for those that didn't. Now, 10 years later, whenever the clock clicks over to 9:11, I stop and say a little prayer for the families of the victims. I can't not pray for them. They carry the weight of this day everyday in a way that I won't ever be able to fully appreciate. I will pray for them for the rest of my life and thank God that it was not my mother on the plane, or my father in the Pentagon, or my sister visiting New York. Acknowledging this tragedy twice a day is infinitely easier than living without any of them.

Days after Sept. 11, classes started back up. Weeks later, radio stations began playing music again. Months later, media coverage began to include local news once more. Years later, the American public didn't even want to hear the word "terror" anymore. It's funny how life goes on, even with a hole in your heart.

Meg C. DeBoe is a resident of Annandale, Virginia.

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

A cross made from a steel beam of the
World Trade Center is the centerpiece
of a 9/11 memorial at Our Lady of
Sorrows Church in Kearney, N.J.
(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
This week, we continue a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

Remember the Alamo! Remember Pearl Harbor! Remember 9/11!

By Father James E. Devlin
Diocese of Brooklyn

We say we will remember, but I am not sure we have. We recall the faces in The New York Times, but we cannot live at the intensity of those days. Just watching the news at night brought tears. It was a time of great pain and great love. It was a time of testing and a time of faith. It was a time of endings and beginnings.

I remember accompanying two fire department officers to notify the wife of a deceased firefighter. We entered an apartment filled with people. I sat next to the wife on the sofa and, after listening to the officers for a while, she said to them, "I've been asking you questions for 10 minutes, I'm sorry, are the two of you alright?" I was mesmerized. What concern for others at a time she had every reason to be self absorbed!

I remember when Our Lady of Angels Parish buried one of the first firefighters recovered. After communion, someone asked all the uniformed officers present to assemble outside the church. As they got up to leave, all 1,000 in attendance at the Mass spontaneously rose and faced them and applauded as if to say, "Thank you for risking your lives for us."

I remember that there were far too many children left fatherless and motherless. I will always remember the outpouring of love, faith and courage witnessed during those days.

I remember in January 2002, going to New Jersey where the debris had been gathered from the World Trade Center. We were looking for a "cross." We found a crossbeam, but what I remember was the mountains of everything: elevator cables, I-beams, concrete encrusted steel everywhere. The small "cross" seemed so insignificant in the midst of the wreckage. On a deeper level, the "cross" gave meaning to the mountain.

In "Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring," Henri Nouwen said: "Not only the death of Jesus, but our death, too, is destined to be good for others. Not only the death of Jesus, but our death, too, is meant to bear fruit in other peoples' lives. Not only the death of Jesus, but our death, too, will bring the Spirit of God to those we leave behind. ... Thus God's Spirit of love continues to be sent to us, and Jesus' death continues to bear fruit through all whose death is like his death, a death for others."*

The deaths of those who died on 9/11 continue to bear fruit. They left a legacy of love, so what I remember most of 9/11 is the love ... always the love.

Father James E. Devlin is pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

*"Our Greatest Gift:A Meditation on Dying and Caring," (San Francisco: San Francisco Harper, 1994, p. 108)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

Paulist Father Bruce Nieli
This week, we continue a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

Forgiveness, unity at Ground Zero

By Father Bruce Nieli, C.S.P.

I was recruited to bless the bodies of victims recovered from a buried stairwell in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. My "recruitment" was purely the work of the Holy Spirit, since I was simply in New York City on the eve of a flight to Greece and Turkey for a pilgrimage I was to lead "in the footsteps of Saint Paul."

I found myself at St. Francis of Assisi Church in midtown Manhattan, which was the home of Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, the heroic chaplain of the New York City Fire Department who gave his life on 9/11. It was there that I felt the call to go to Ground Zero, where I was directed to get a hard hat and mask and help out in that apocalyptic setting. The fire department, so largely Catholic, needed a priest.

I was ordained in 1973, the very year that the Twin Towers went up. To see them come down was like seeing a part of my life come down. My heart was filled with intense anger at the terrorists. Yet the words that came out of my mouth as I blessed my first body with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and other ministers present expressed just the opposite sentiment: "Lord, make us all instruments of your peace; where there is hatred, let us sow love ..."

The Holy Spirit, I'm certain through the intercession of St. Francis and Father Judge, turned my bitterness into forgiveness.

How in awe I was seeing the crowds along the New York streets praying and saluting as we wheeled the American flag-draped bodies to the makeshift morgue. It was to see firsthand an America united.

At Ground Zero two fellow ministers pointed out two things I will never forget. The rector of St. Paul's Chapel at the base of Ground Zero, mentioned that one of the earliest paintings of the great seal of the United States, directly over George Washington's pew, with America's original motto, e pluribus unum ("out of many, one"), written on the ribbon carried by the bald eagle, was intact. Miraculously, it was not destroyed by the implosions of the Twin Towers. The other was the cross at Ground Zero that the Peace Officer Ministries had helped to plant as a reminder of Christ's presence in the depths of tragedy.

Since my sojourn at Ground Zero I have focused my preaching and mission on connecting through the power of the Holy Spirit the cross of Christ, so central to our Catholic faith, with the culture of America.

In this way we can all build a nation under God truly e pluribus unum.

Father Bruce Nieli, C.S.P., is a Paulist priest based in Memphis.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

This week, we continue a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

Minnesota Twins at a Ground Zero hospital

By Father Jeff Ethen
Diocese of St. Cloud

My traveling partner, Father Peter Kirchner of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and I had arrived in New York City on Sept. 10, 2001, for vacation. We ended up spending this time ministering to the victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. We spent the first day at St. Vincent's Hospital, where the firefighters and other rescue personnel were brought for triage. The second day was spent at the city's missing persons' bureau to counsel families of victims.

Our itinerary had us at breakfast in the Window of the World Restaurant at the top of the tower, but we missed our appointment. (No one escaped, we later learned). As Lower Manhattan was being sealed off, only necessary personnel was allowed near Ground Zero. As priests, we believed we were needed.As priests, we believed we were needed.

Police officers at road blocks let us pass on foot and directed us to St. Vincent's Hospital. We were the second and third ministers to arrive following Cardinal Edward Egan. He later referred to us as the visiting Minnesota Twins.

Other clergy soon arrived. The trickle of ambulances became a flood. Each cleric fell in with hospital personnel as each victim was screened. Anointings were administrated by Cardinal Egan.

The scene in the hospital was controlled chaos. No one ran. No one shouted. The first floor was littered with the discarded firefighters' uniforms and gear bags. I removed boots from firefighters, when directed to do so, to keep the ones in shock from returning to Ground Zero.

Outside, civilians were kept across the street to clear the road for emergency traffic. A family member would dash through the barriers, each time a priest was spotted, and photos of loved ones were pressed into our hands. All the photos were kept and a mural was created along the outside wall of the hospital during the first anniversary memorial service.

Father Kirchner and I were selected the following day to be part of the 25-member ministry team that met the victims' families. The city set up a missing persons' bureau to relieve spouses, parents, siblings and friends from endlessly circling Manhattan's hospitals. While the bureau was legitimate, its main function was for the clergy to tell the families to quit looking. We gave them permission to stop. We told them there weren't any survivors. Not one family departed without one of us looking them in the eyes and telling them to go home.

The experience was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually draining. What I learned about faith is that it is active. Paralysis from the shock crept into bones. Darkness enveloped the soul. Personal willpower wasn't enough for recovery. A common belief at Ground Zero was that whatever dangers remained, to function without God was immobilizing.

Everybody we met during those tragic days wanted to connect with another human being. The challenge was never to turn down anybody's request for help. If I didn't know how to deliver on a request, I personally sought out someone who could. One priest who arrived later at St. Vincent's had lost his clerical collar. Did I have an extra one? I had only the one I was wearing. I cut it in half with a pair of surgical scissors. "No" wasn't in our vocabulary.

Walking the streets with our Roman collars during the week after the attacks attracted lots of inquiries from strangers about faith. The New Yorkers who sought us out had come face-to-face with their own mortality and wanted to talk about their relationship with God. Some wanted baptism. Some were angry with God. Our daily lives are lived superficially. The deep wound of 9/11 revealed, however, the deep-seated spirituality that hungers for justice, not vengeance; that seeks healing and strains mightily against the despair of hopelessness.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

This week, we continue a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

Experiencing 9/11 from afar

By Deacon Tom Aumen
Diocese of Harrisburg

I was on sabbatical from my job as a social studies teacher at New Oxford Middle School in New Oxford, Penn. My family has been doing mission trips abroad since 1997. At this particular time, I was returning from a mission trip (with Medical Ministry International, Texas) to Darkhan, Mongolia. My role on this mission was to assist with construction of a "halfway house" for men whose alcoholic problems brought them into prison.

We flew from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, into Beijing, China. Seven of us from the team had decided to spend a few days as tourists in Beijing. Our brief stopover was in its last day. I was in bed at 10 p.m. because we would be leaving early for the airport to fly home. A phone call came from a team member who was in the military.

He had received a call from the embassy about the attacks on America. “I don't think we're going anywhere in the morning,” he said.

We turned on the TV — the BBC, the only English-language station. We saw the tragedy unfold, and we heard the rumors that the Congress and State Department buildings were also attacked. We went to the airport in the morning, only to find the United Airlines counter was closed — the order had been issued to close the airspace over the U.S. One of our team, a Canadian, eventually flew out aboard another airline. United Airlines agreed to put us up in a hotel, with two meals per day, until permission was given to return home.

I sat the whole day in front of the TV watching the video of the tragedy and listening to the commentary. Though concerned about my family and their safety, it wasn't until late morning that I was able to contact my wife and let her know that I was safe, and so were she and the kids. Our group had no idea when we might be able to return home.

To kill time, we traveled downtown toward the U.S. embassy. Each day, barricades were extended farther away from the embassy as the threat of another attack heightened. We shopped just to keep busy. We were told to “lie low,” as Americans could become targets almost anywhere. People would look at us and for the most part offered condolences (even some Russians we met in the elevator).

On the sixth day after the attacks, United Airlines notified two of us that we would have seats on the next day’s flight home. It was unsettling flying the long trip to Chicago, knowing that the terrorists had used airplanes as weapons.

Obviously, prayers were the order of the day, along with trust in God to deliver us safely home to our families. Upon arrival in Chicago before flying on, the agent said, "Welcome home." She didn't realize how truly wonderful it felt being back on home soil. As a teacher, I don't let a year go by without using Sept. 11 to discuss the attacks, why there is evil in the hearts of man, etc. I read stories of people who were directly impacted.

I use the occasion to discuss how God created man to be good (yes, I teach in a public school) but that man’s free will brings on the evil deeds. It is a wonderful opportunity for my seventh-graders to face the reality of life and hopefully to begin the journey to make the right choices.

Deacon Tom Aumen is a deacon of the Diocese of Harrisburg.

Monday, September 5, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

Tourists gather on a hillside at the
temporary memorial site in Shanksville, Pa.,
where United Flight 93 crashed on
Sept. 11, 2001. (CNS photo/Ed Zelachoski,
Catholic Accent)
This week, we continue a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

A people changed by 9/11

By Monsignor Robert J. Romano
Diocese of Brooklyn

The events of 9/11 changed my life and my priesthood. A decade has gone by since that "day of infamy" of the new 21st century, but I can remember with clarity the events of Sept. 11, 2001. It has made me who I am today.

I was preparing for Mass when I heard on the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I celebrated Mass. After Mass, I headed out to lower Manhattan along the Gowanus Expressway where I saw the smoke and dust of the already collapsed buildings.

After reporting in with the mayor and police commissioner, I went to Ground Zero, where I saw the carnage for the first time. I was confronted with the sight of the dead and the knowledge that many of the officers I knew through my ministry as a police chaplain were missing and feared dead. One of the missing was a friend whose infant son I had baptized only 10 days earlier.

In the months after 9/11 I spent almost every day at the site. For the first several weeks, I celebrated Mass every day for the families who were waiting word about their loved ones. After hopes of rescuing survivors vanished, the project moved toward recovery. Masses continued every Sunday and holy day for the emergency service cops who worked to bring closure for the families by returning their loved ones for burial.

Attendance at those weekly Masses grew every week, starting at about 15 on the first Sunday after Sept. 11. By May, when the last piece of metal was removed from Ground Zero, the intersection at Murray and Greenwich streets was closed so that I could celebrate Mass for several hundred people. It was something I never thought would happen, but I will treasure its memory for all my life.

The years have gone by, but the memories remain for all who were involved in that one single day and its aftermath that changed the lives of so many and of our nation. I, along with my fellow police chaplains, have continued to minister to the 23 families of the cops we lost that day and to the over 40 other families who have lost their loved ones due to "post 9/11" illnesses. It's tragic that the evil of that September day continues to take lives and destroys families.

There really has been no closure for the thousands of families who lost loved ones and the millions of Americans whose safety was violated. While Osama bin Laden has been killed, the threat of another attack is always there. Those who say we should put Sept. 11 behind us fail to realize that it is not only a part of history but a part of our lives. Time does not heal the wounds; we just learn to live with them.

As a priest and police chaplain my job is to minister to those who are hurting. In these past 10 years I have felt the love of those who have accepted me as a part of their families and have ministered to me. God was there that day in the heroes who performed.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

Jesuit Father James Martin
This week, we begin a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

The parable of Ground Zero

By Father James Martin, SJ

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was working at my desk at America magazine in midtown Manhattan. Around 9 a.m., my mother called from Philadelphia to say that she had heard about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. I thought it was odd that she would call; she knew that my office was uptown, not downtown. A few minutes later, I decided to turn on the television set. It was only then that I saw the unfolding tragedy.

That morning I had a doctor's appointment and so, still unsure of what exactly was happening, I walked the few blocks to his office. But as I peered down Sixth Avenue (a few feet away from our office) I was horrified to see the Twin Towers with inky black smoke pouring from their tops. Even then, panicked people were streaming uptown, desperately trying to use their cell phones (many of which had ceased to work since the cell phone towers at the World Trade Center had been rendered useless). Numbly, I made my way to my doctor's appointment.

An hour later, the scene was utterly different. Everyone's eyes faced downtown. People were weeping in the streets, scanning the skies for another plane, racing toward subway entrances and desperately hailing cabs.

When I returned to our offices, our receptionist told me that one of the buildings had collapsed. "That's ridiculous," I said, angrily. "What radio station is saying that? That's impossible." Turning on the television confirmed my worst fears.

That evening, I put my collar on and made my way to a local hospital a few blocks away, where victims were to be brought. But the police officers in the lobby suggested that I walk farther downtown. So through the empty streets, I walked to Chelsea Piers, a large sporting arena, to wait for victims who never came.

The next day I spent several hours at a family counseling center downtown, helping family members pore through hospital records of patients who had been admitted. But, in the end, there would be few survivors.

Finally, on Sept. 13, I returned to Chelsea Piers and asked a police officer if they needed any help downtown. He nodded curtly, waved for a police cruiser, and I jumped in and was taken down to "the site."

It was an absolutely appalling sight — the colossal, twisted buildings still on fire, piles of rubble covered with a heavy layer of gray ash, and hundreds of uniformed firefighters and police officers seemingly everywhere. Ten years later I can still remember the terrible acrid smell that pervaded everything. I felt like I was in hell.

After emerging from the police car, stunned, I wondered what to do. I thought: I cannot bear to look at bodies, I cannot bear to be in the morgue, but I can help the rescue workers. So I spent the next few days and weeks, in between my work at the magazine, ministering to the rescue workers — firefighters, police officers, EMTs, nurses, construction workers, military personnel and government workers from every conceivable office. In time I was joined by my Jesuit brothers, many of them still in training.

In this hell I found grace. Working at the World Trade Center was one of the most profound experiences of the Holy Spirit I've ever had, for there I encountered an overwhelming sense of charity, unity and concord. Every person working at Ground Zero was "other-directed." Every person was selfless, utterly unconcerned for himself or herself. Every person seemed kind, considerate, loving.

All of their work, of course, was deeply informed by the sacrifices that had already been made by the firefighters and rescue workers who gave their lives as they raced into the burning buildings on Sept. 11. For me, it was as if God was offering us a parable. In the Gospels, when people asked what God or the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus offered them a parable, a story drawn from nature or everyday life to help them understand things more deeply. Jesus would say: God is like the father welcoming back his son. Or: God is like a woman sweeping her house.

And here was God offering us a parable today. As I looked around at the rescue workers, I thought, what is God like? God is like the firefighter who rushes into a burning building to save someone. That's how much God loves us. And I saw this love expressed in the great charity of all the rescue workers who gathered at the American Golgotha.

So for me, the experience of Sept. 11, 2001, was not simply one of tragedy but also of resurrection. For me it embodied the Christian mystery of the cross: the place of unimaginable tragedy can also be the place of new life that comes in unexpected ways.

Father James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine, and the author of several books, including "Searching for God at Ground Zero."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

A worker looks over memorial items left
on a fence near Ground Zero in New York.
(Credit: CNS Photo/Mary Knight)
This week, we begin a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

We stood together on Sept. 11

By Father Paul Wierichs, C.P.

Everyone remembers, and will probably always remember, exactly where they were and what they were doing on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

I was chaplain for the FBI's New York office. After returning to my office after my morning run, but before I got to my desk, all of my phones began ringing — my beeper, my private line, my business phone — all ringing simultaneously. All were people alerting me to the horrific events that had begun to unfold, starting with a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers.

Traveling into New York City I was struck by the number of New York firemen and police being called back to work. Before I entered into the Queens Midtown tunnel, I stopped for a moment and looked over in the direction of the World Trade Center and saw nothing but billowing smoke. As I rushed into the FBI's New York office, close to the World Trade Center, the office was frantic — faces were grim — something I had never seen in this office.Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see in person at Ground Zero: the dust that permeated the air, the acid smell, the carnage, workers putting their own lives at risk to find survivors. I had lived in a monastery while many of my generation served in Vietnam. I could never truly appreciate the horror they went through. When I talked to people at Ground Zero who had served in Vietnam, they said this was more horrific.

During the first couple of days, standing there with my FBI raid jacket with "chaplain" on the back, I was overwhelmed by the number of firemen, policemen and other rescue people who came up to me saying, "Chaplain, may I speak to you for a moment?" I heard more confessions in two weeks than I had in years.

As a Passionist, I am called to preach the passion of Jesus. For me that means entering into the passion of people's lives, particularly when they are called to carry a cross. We offer them hope, consolation, and love. I am honored that I was able to be part of heroic people's lives. Looking into the eyes of everyone around I saw an inner wound to the soul itself. God was also present in those eyes, giving us all the strength we needed to go that extra mile.

Most law enforcement and emergency workers do not express emotion. This was not the case that day. I was standing inside the American Express building when six firemen brought out the body of one of their own. I said, "Let me offer a prayer." The lieutenant called them to attention, hats off, and brought those men but also myself to tears.

What struck me about the heroism of firemen, policemen, and rescue workers was their total dedication to the task at hand. When people were running out of harm's way firemen were running towards the crisis, risking their own lives to help others who needed assistance.

Their unyielding hope in looking for survivors amid all the tons of rubble, dust, glass and steel for more than two weeks showed the true character of each of them. Their outpouring of generosity reflected the outpouring of generosity from all people of all faiths, with their prayers and donations. People came together in unity that day. We can all remember where we were on 9/11, because we were all together.

Father Paul Wierichs, C.P., is director of Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center in North Palm Beach, Florida.

Friday, September 2, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

Father Joseph Bayne, OFM, Conv., stands
by a fire truck in Buffalo, where he serves
as chaplain to the fire department.
(Credit: Patrick McPartland/
Western New York Catholic/Diocese of Buffalo)
This week, we begin a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

An instrument of peace at Ground Zero

By Father Joseph Bayne, OFM Conv.

As a follower of Francis of Assisi, I'm challenged to bring joy to a broken and sorrow-filled world. In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, I was challenged to take this ministry to Ground Zero as an emergency services chaplain. The experience changed me, and 10 years later, I still feel the emotion, and tears still come easily.

I was having coffee with my aunt and cousin outside of Albany the morning of 9/11. My father was a Baltimore firefighter who died in the line of duty back in May 1977, and my stomach tightened when news of the World Trade Center first came on the television. My aunt and cousin were panicked as another one of my cousins works only blocks from Ground Zero. We prayed and cried together before I rushed back to Buffalo. Along the highway, I could see emergency vehicles heading toward New York City. At the rest stops, people were huddled around the TV monitors and crying.

The bond among fire personnel is deep and strong. We lost 343 firefighters from the Fire Department of New York that day, which was like a "sword piercing our heart," to paraphrase Mary's feelings at the crucifixion. A particular moment of emotion for me was the funeral of fellow Franciscan and fire department chaplain Father Mychal Judge. I broke down and wept while watching the news coverage during dinner with friends.

When Erie County Emergency Services received the official request for personnel to respond to help at Ground Zero, our commissioner called me and asked me to accompany our fire/EMS personnel as their chaplain and support system. Our convoy of 23 ambulances with crews of volunteers headed down on Sunday, Sept. 16. On our brief stops, people cried, cheered, and wished us well on our journey and mission. This was humbling and moving to say the least.

When we entered New York City close to midnight, smoke hung over the city. Our EMS crews and ambulances were sent in a few at time to do shifts at Ground Zero. I went in with the first crews and remained for the duration of our shift. The destruction, dust, subdued hum of the rescue equipment, as well as the army of police, fire, EMS and so many other professionals working at the site was beyond overwhelming. Tears rolled down my face, mixing with the dust, and my eyes hurt, but nothing as heavy as my heart and inner spirit.

My role as chaplain for emergency services is a "ministry of presence." I roamed around Ground Zero in my turnout gear, speaking to the rescue personnel as they came off the smoking burning pile that was holy ground. I shook hands, hugged, gave bottles of water and often prayed quietly with them. I even mustered some smiles and laughter. I met the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, the man who lost over 700 of his staff. I spoke with cops and fire fighters. In true St. Francis of Assisi style, I patted and blessed the rescue dogs as they came off the pile after their shift.

During a break, some of us visited one of the World Trade Center buildings still standing and still safe, despite its windows being blown out. This spot allowed us to go up a floor or two and literally look down into Ground Zero. Here, I stopped my friends and said that I needed to pray for Father Mychal Judge. They instinctively huddled around me, joining hands, and surrounded me in support. I prayed quietly, then openly and I wept.

This experience changed me in some ways. I'm still a sinner, still a bit of a workaholic, still at times trying to "save the world, with my messiah complex." But this tragedy and the humbling opportunity to minister at Ground Zero made me reflect lots on the gift of life, relationships, on making every day good in some way and using the opportunities and gifts God pours upon us. It made me be more conscious of trying "not to sweat the small stuff" as my father had taught me. Life is so precious and yet so fragile. A hug, a smile, an embrace, a kind word, a strong or gentle handshake — all took on new meaning for me.

In the days following the tragedy, some said they saw the face of the devil in the smoke at Ground Zero. Many asked me about the same, and my answer hasn't changed in 10 years. No, I did not see the devil's face at Ground Zero. I saw the face of God in the people working, caring, sweating, crying, rescuing, recovering and being very spiritual in their very humanness. I was moved and changed and felt God's hand in the goodness that followed such tragedy. My ministry embodied the prayer of Saint Francis, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace."

Father Joseph Bayne, OFM Conv., is chief chaplain of the Erie County Emergency Services, chaplain of the Buffalo Fire Department and executive director of the Franciscan Center, a runaway homeless youth shelter, in Buffalo, New York.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

9/11: Reflections and remembrances

Monsignor Anthony Sherman
(CNS Photo)
This week, we begin a 13-part series leading to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, "9/11: Reflections and Remembrances," presented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the USCCB has gathered some reflections and remembrances from clergy who ministered to victims and their families, and others who were impacted by the tragedy.

Suffering, death and resurrection: a pastor’s experience of 9/11

By Monsignor Anthony Sherman

It was a picture perfect day when I returned to my rectory after a number of communion calls. On my way to the last one, our parish deacon met me and said he had heard that a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

At home, I could sense that things were much more serious. I went to the school and met with the principal who described the events that were developing. Our concern was to provide the children with as much normalcy as possible since the children had not heard the news nor seen anything yet. We had just hired a nurse psychologist for our school and this was to be her first day. With the help of the nurse, both the principal and I prepared for how to deal with the news of either deceased or missing parents. Fortunately, the windows of the school faced away from New York.

I went with our maintenance man to the roof and there before my eyes I could see the towers engulfed in flames and then, as if made of matchsticks, one of them completely imploded. The rush of emotions is beyond words, and it struck at the very depths of my being.

We were successful in keeping the children in school until dismissal that day. Only one parent insisted on taking a child home. We wished to avoid children being placed in front of TV and traumatized by seeing the events over and over again.

At lunch time, I returned to the rectory, and just then an American fighter plane zoomed low. Questions raced through my mind. Were we suddenly at war with some country actually attacking us? The news indicated that people were walking across the main bridges from New York. One person appeared in our rectory completely covered with white powder. She was not a parishioner, but she needed to talk before going home.

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.

The readings in the week following these events were filled with statements about the consolation and strength God wished to offer his people. These were comforting words at a time when absolutely everything seemed to have been thrown up in the air. Any tranquility or self-confidence individuals or the nation had as a whole was shaken to its roots.

Often at the funerals or memorials in our parish, I had to complete the reading of the words of remembrance and other tributes, which, thank God, we asked people to type out beforehand.Were it not for faith in God and in the power of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection, I could not have led the flock entrusted to me. Again and again, experiences of intense human suffering, death and resurrection came into dialogue with Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection.

One of the transforming experiences of these sad days was that everyone really had to ask themselves what was important in life. Certainly the normal things that we get so excited by were all cast aside by the magnitude of what had happened. The preciousness and also the precarious and vulnerable nature of the fundamental gift of life burned its way into the depth of our souls.

I suppose for this reason, it took me quite some time before I could visit Ground Zero and look down at it from the street. Even more traumatic for me was when we made the pre-visit for Pope Benedict's projected visit. Cardinal Egan told me about his own experiences of 9/11, and we both realized how we had been transformed by that day. But it was with some trepidation that 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.

A lesson learned from the whole experience was the realization that we ought not to cling to too much, although that is a constant struggle. In a moment, everything in our lives can be thrown up in the air and without a clear sense of what can truly survive. The way forward can be almost impossible.

Finally, 9/11 led us all into the very depths of the mysteries of human suffering, death and resurrection. We discovered that we cannot obtain nor find all the answers to the atrocities we experienced. Yet with God's grace we also experienced the height of human sacrifice and the ability of our brothers and sisters to manifest heroic love. Ultimately we will have the answer to our questions and the reconciliation of all the forces of those days when we ourselves enter into the mysterious inner life of God's self. Only there will the mysteries of the 9/11 experience be revealed.

Monsignor Anthony Sherman is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and former director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.