Skip to comments.The (Catholic) Church's Noblest at Ground Zero
Posted on 08/24/2011 2:45:23 PM PDT by NYer
There are times when the church makes you feel proud. Priests' response to 9/11, ten years ago, is one of them.
This became evident as the U.S. Bishops' Office of Media Relations interviewed and sought reflections from a few persons for "The Catholic Church Remembers," a website memorial of video clips, photos and print that can be found can be found here.
Cardinal Edward Egan, retired archbishop of New York, was one of the first responders that fateful morning. He headed for Ground Zero when he heard of the attack. As he was on the way Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called and asked him to go instead to await the injured at St. Vincent's Hospital. Thus began the cardinal's critical service to a city in need.
The first person he met at St. Vincent's was a woman, burned from head to foot. The second was one of his priests, a fire department chaplain.
By rank, a cardinal is like a U.S. senator or a general, a big-time leader you don't expect to find on the front of any war. Cardinal Egan didn't see himself that way.
"I kept saying to myself, 'I'm not a fireman, a fire person, a firefighter,'" he recalled on video. "'I'm not a police officer. I'm not an emergency worker. I'm a priest and I'm going to do everything that a priest can do under these circumstances.'"
Afterwards, he worked at Ground Zero, a site so contaminated that officials told him to discard all his clothes when he returned home. He anointed bodies, listened to rescuers, and consoled both the disconsolate and their consolers. He celebrated funeral Masses at St. Patrick's Cathedral and led prayers when President George W. Bush arrived at Ground Zero, and at an ecumenical service he organized Yankee Stadium.
Other priests sprang into action, too. Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, head of Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, saw that it was not just Wall Street people with significant finances who were affected. It was also those who live on the edge, such as the wait staff at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop one of the Twin Towers. Msgr. Sullivan contacted the unions and said Catholic Charities would pay the salaries for six months for restaurant workers there, who were suddenly out of work—enough time, he thought, for them to find another job.
Other priests made their way to the scene, most notably the fire department chaplain Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, the first officially recorded fatality of the attack. When rescuers found his body, firemen carried it from the rubble, not to a mortuary van but to the sanctuary of a nearby church.
Other clergy responded as priests too. The city established a site for those looking for missing family members, a place with counselors and social workers. The line went on for blocks and priests walked alongside it and helped people accept the inevitable—a loss of someone only to be found again in heaven. A veteran psychiatrist told Cardinal Egan that he was amazed when he interviewed families and saw how deeply they had been touched by their sidewalk conversations with priests.
The church knows the importance of chaplains and designates priests to help emergency workers such as police, firefighters, and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. These public servants need one of their own in crises and at 9/11 their own priests responded.
9/11's own, however, also turned out to be not just official chaplains but also priests in other ministries, like Msgr. Anthony Sherman, a Brooklyn pastor who counseled strangers and led funeral Masses for the dead from his parish—some whose bodies were never found—and Jesuit Father James Martin, an editor at America magazine, who worked with rescuers in the aftermath, and so many other unnamed and unrecognized priests who offered the sacraments, encouragement and human consolation. They rose to the heights of their calling, in the depths of that tragedy.
Cardinal Egan calls Ground Zero, "Ground Hero." He speaks of a medical intern who stayed on duty though his father worked high in one of the Twin Towers, of a widow with babe in arms in the front pew of St. Patrick's for her husband's funeral, of the police who demanded for five days that the cardinal wear a gas mask to protect him from the contaminated air at the site but didn't wear their own because the masks impaired visibility.
New York's fire department, which lost 343 members, is known as "New York's Bravest;" the police department as "New York's Finest." Looking at the church's response to 9/11, the priests who responded would say they were "just priests," but surely they were "the Church's Noblest," too.
To sister's list, I would like to add this noble priest. On September 11, 2001, Monsignor Ignace Sadek, an elderly Catholic priest in Brooklyn, rushed down to the waterfront to pray for the dead and dying as the towers burned. When the first tower came down, the vast and choking cloud of ash lumbered across the harbor to the shores of Brooklyn. No one knew what poisons were in that cloud, but that old priest stood there with his hands raised in prayer, and with terrified strangers falling at his feet begging for absolution for their sins. He stood gracefully by the waterfront with his hands up and the air... giving the last rites, in the name of Jesus Christ, to thousands of dying people he didn't even know and who never had a chance before their untimely death.
Thank you, NYer. That was wonderful. God bless all of you who endured this in person. As well as the dearly departed.
Where would unions be without Catholics?
Msgr Filacchione, from Our Lady of Victory, presided over more than 300 funeral masses after 9/11.
I think I remember that Trinity Church was unharmed by the attack.
My lived there back then. He still winces when a plane flies overhead. He has not been the same since and just won’t talk about it.
I’m trying to remember the name of priest who died at Ground Zero. Not on the first day, but several days or weeks later.
Fr. Mychal Judge
I teach in a Jesuit secondary school alongside some very devout Catholic Priests and Brothers (and a few who - well, they are Jesuits...). I’m not Catholic myself - yet - having been raised in the Anglican communion, but I sat in on a religious education class a while back, as part of our process of quality assessing each others teachers.
The Brother who took that class told a story - not sure if it was a true story or just a parable of sorts - to the 14 year old boys in the class. About a Catholic Priest on a warship that was sinking - as a retired sailor it touched me - being grabbed by a sailor as he entered the superstructure to descend to where men were trapped down in the engine compartments.
“For God’s sake, Father, don’t do in there.”
“For God’s sake, son, is why I must.”
A hero runs towards the danger to save lives - and I’ve never found that all that hard to understand, because saving lives seems so obvious to me as something you want to do.
But to have the faith in a soul, that is needed to run towards the danger knowing that you will not save a life, but will only lose one, but that you might save souls instead. I don’t know what to call that. Hero doesn’t seem enough to me. It is heroism, no doubt, but it something else as well.
I’m a man who has doubts. I think even the most devout person does at times. But to overcome any doubt for the sake of others - thank God for such people.
Yes, we all have doubts at times. Yet, there are times when all of us run toward the danger. I’ll never forget having a van full of my kids and pulling off the road onto a soft should. Instantly the van sunk to one side. Someone passed me, then came back. When I asked them why — they told me that I had a cross on my van....I had not taken the Marriage Encounter symbol off my van after my husband’s death.
Obviously, I was very grateful for these Christians and their help.
Sister Walsh seems to be remaking history by devoting more than 13 lines to Cardinal Egan and only 2 lines to Father Judge who gave his LIFE on 9/11.
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Brave, beyond brave.
Truly he is a MARYR SAINT.
I remember watching that movie about the two French-born brothers who were doing a documentry about a NYC fire department firehouse, doing a day in the life of a trainee when they film history. Saw Father Judge in his fire man’s uniform moving his lips in prayer. A reminder to pray at all times, good and bad.