Seasonal Reflection: Sept. 11 Anniversary

Jocelyn Thomas Features

For Holy Name Province, Sept. 11, 2001, is a significant date for two reasons — the impact on the nation and the impact on the Province because of the death of Mychal Judge, OFM. Below, several friars provide their thoughts about the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Reflections about the anniversary will also appear in the next issue of this newsletter.

Michael Duffy, OFM, 
Guardian of Juniper Friary, Philadelphia, and member of St. Francis Inn team; he preached the homily at Mychal’s funeral Mass in September 2001.

You hear many people exclaim, “I can’t believe it has been ten years!” A large part of that sentiment is due to the fact that the profound emotional impact of 9/11 hasn’t faded as other events do as time goes by. Perhaps it is because the event so drastically changed our world view, brought the fear, tension, and anxiety of conflict so close to us and changed our concept of invincibility. Before, when we felt so secure having the most powerful military in the world, who would ever dream that one, six, or 12 individuals could wreck such havoc and on our soil? When the physical dust settled, our spirits were set in a different place.

So many lives lost so suddenly and with such violence, 9/11 has made us more appreciative of one another. We realize that we can’t take anyone for granted and so our relationships are more caring and the bonds of friendship seem stronger. It’s sad that it took that to make it happen, but we are consoled that some good came out of such a tragedy.

Many examples of this focus on the person of Mychal Judge. To honor his life and his Franciscan vocation there exists the Mychal Judge Recovery Center in Boston, St Bonaventure University’s Mychal Judge Center for Community Engagement, and Mychal’s Message, the dynamic organization that collects coats, socks, toiletries and other items to distribute to the poor and homeless at St. Francis Church in New York City and here in Philadelphia at St. Francis Inn.

So here we are 10 years later, and the love of people — especially the poor and homeless — that Mychal showed in his life continues a decade after he has gone home to God.

Daniel Grigassy, OFM
Pastor of St. Bonaventure Church, Paterson, N.J.; he was stationed at the Washington Theological Union, Washington, D.C., in 2001.

After the disasters that struck our country on Sept. 11, 2001, “Never Forget” signs were seen everywhere. The horrors of that day impelled us to say, “Indeed, we will never forget!” But human nature tends to fix on the present and dream about the future; the past tends to fade quickly.

Anniversaries help us remember. Rituals of remembering are essential for our national health. For most of our teenagers, ten-years-ago is but a foggy memory. They remember the feeling of trauma but do not know the details or significance of that day. Rituals help us remember; they help us fulfill that promise that we will “never forget.” We must encourage our people to join us in prayer, especially the young, who are growing into a new world that will mark September 11, 2001, as the first day of a new era for us all.

Timothy Shreenan, OFM
Director of liturgy and communications, St. Francis of Assisi Church, New York City; he arranged Mychal’s funeral services in 2001.

On the evening of Aug. 27, the National Geographic Channel broadcast an hour-long interview with President George W. Bush as he reflected on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the immediate aftermath. I listened as the president described hearing the news that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center while he was sitting with a group of young students in a classroom in Florida. A video clip showed the second plane neatly slicing through the south tower then erupting into a fireball. This, and so many other images, are permanently etched into our collective memories. I have purposely avoided watching replays of video or looking at books about 9/11 simply because those images are still too difficult for me to see.

In the hours after the towers fell and news came that our brother Mychal Judge was among the dead, my immediate task was to help prepare for his funeral rites. Like everyone else, I felt pretty numb during those days, but there was work to do, and I just did what was needed to be done.

911reflectionMychal’s funeral Mass on Saturday, Sept. 15, was in many ways a cathartic moment for many people. Michael Duffy’s touching homily used just the right amount of humor to help break the emotional headlock that had gripped the city. It was as if he had given us permission to laugh again in a way Mychal Judge would have wanted. For me, that moment wasn’t enough. After the funeral ended, I spent some time straightening things up in the church and sacristy. Then I went down to the old 31st Street refectory and had a sandwich for lunch. I went back up to my room, took off my habit, went down the hall to the bathroom and vomited. It was as if all the emotion, stress, tension, and grief came out in one swoop.

Later that same afternoon, I took a walk over to the Hudson River Park and walked downtown as far as I could go to where the Westside Highway remained blocked off to everything but emergency vehicles and personnel. I needed to get out and try to find some measure of closure to week that none of us will ever forget. A week bathed in warm, late summer sunshine; now darkened by the smoke of fear and death.

Ten years later the smoke is gone, but how far have we really come?

— Compiled by Jocelyn Thomas

Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office welcomes reflections from friars on this and other seasonal topics.