Skip to comments.Ground Zero becomes spiritual refuge
Posted on 10/29/2001 12:50:19 AM PST by JohnHuang2
Ground Zero becomes spiritual refuge
By MAUREEN FAN
San Jose Mercury News
NEW YORK Instead of an altar, there was a smoking backdrop of twisted steel beams jutting from the charred remains of the World Trade Center.
Instead of stained glass, there was open sky, as blue as on September 11th.
Instead of incense, there was the burnt smell of thousands of tons of debris.
For more than 9,000 family members who converged at Ground Zero Sunday for the first memorial service here to remember the more than 4,000 people killed in last month's terrorist attacks, the corner of Church and Dey Streets in Lower Manhattan became a church, a temple, a mosque, a massive burial site and a spiritual refuge, all in one.
In a one-hour, speech-free service of song and prayer, mourners remembered their friends and relatives by holding aloft wallet-sized photos and homemade signs. Bundled against the autumn chill, they held back tears, sobbed into gloved hands and leaned against each other for support.
Bulldozers and cranes were stilled for the day, but jets of water continued to spray smoldering pockets of debris. Mourners listened to moving musical offerings, from "Ave Maria" sung by Andrea Bocelli, who flew in from Italy, to "Amazing Grace," performed by American soprano Renee Fleming, to "Raisins and Almonds," a traditional Yiddish song played by Russian violinist Ilya Gringolts.
"We've lost parents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives," said Cardinal Edward Egan, Archbishop of New York, who opened and closed the ceremony. "They were innocent and they were rudely, ruthlessly, unjustly taken from us."
For some families, the service was a chance to spread word of their loved ones' heroic deaths. For others it was an eye-opening first look at the destruction. Many came for closure, but some knew they would never find it.
"It's so depressing. There's no closure, no identification, nothing," said Anita Martinez, who works in the finance department at St. Vincent's Hospital. Her sister-in-law Bettsy Martinez, 33, a Cantor Fitzgerald receptionist, is among the missing.
"This is the first time I've been able to come down here," said an emotional
Maureen Roma, 31, who lost her 27-year-old brother Keith Roma, a firefighter in Greenwich Village. Asked what she got from being there, she said: "It means something to see where he is, because we haven't found him yet."
Janet Kang, 31, and her family came to remember her eldest brother, Joon Koo Kang, 34. He was an equity assistant analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, a saxophone player, a table tennis champion and the father of two young daughters.
"I'm here to be with the other survivors. We can draw strength from being together, we can comfort each other to show that we're not alone," Kang said. "It also really helps you get closure being at the site. You hold onto hope until you see how massive the destruction is. It helps you go on to the next stage."
It was a theme echoed by Iman Izak-El Mu'eed Pasha, Resident Iman of Masjid Malcom Shabazz in Harlem, and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.
"We weep here today but we will walk from here today," Potasnik said. "Death will not conquer our love. We will hold on to the memory, we will hold onto this moment but most importantly, we will hold on to one another."
Pasha prayed for "ways to address the differences among us better than we have in the past" and asked God "to protect us against our errors and to protect us against our ignorance and our stupidity."
Security was tight, with American Red Cross disaster relief workers mingling among firefighters, police officers, chaplains, safety officers and representatives from the office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Though the round-the-clock recovery effort was halted for the first time since Sept. 11, bulldozers were seen moving in the morning, as performers rehearsed for the service.
The site was quiet, save for the rumble of generators and a distant helicopter.
"Just looking at the destruction, I could see spirits coming out of these buildings, people talking back to their families," said Pat Hannafin, 46, a sanitation worker, who lost his kid brother, Tom Hannafin, a firefighter with Ladder 5. "I could see that in people's faces."
Hannafin was one of those who held up a large sign, a photo of his brother with the words, "A True Hero."
"I just want people to know that my brother did die, but he died a hero trying to help other people. It's part of the job but not to die like this. This was more like murder, and it's hard to take because of that."
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