On the roof of Firehouse 10, on Liberty Street, Nancy, a woman in her late 40s, overlooked the remains of the World Trade Center. Nearby, her daughter and her son, a 15-year-old girl and her 22-year-old brother, peered glazy-eyed into “the pit.”
We — six Manhattan moms, Brother Michael Steele and I — had come to pray at the tragic site. Each time I bring visitors to Ground Zero, they immediately get absorbed in the impressions.
The intent is not to come to “gawk” but to reflect and pray. We will get to that, too, but while they first of all fill their eyes, I make contact with those already present: rescue workers, the hospitable firemen and visitors who are often relatives or friends of victims. I invite them to join our group in a prayer, which we usually offer concretely for the victims known to those present, as well as for peace, conversion, reconciliation and forgiveness in our world.
Nancy was easy to approach. She came from Baltimore. I commented that she looked especially moved. She said her husband had died here. “He traveled from Baltimore on Sept. 11 to the Twin Towers for a meeting on the 102nd floor.”
My spontaneous reaction was full of pity –– “How awful!”
She corrected me immediately.
“No, it was God's will,” she said. “This was foreseen by him, and since that day he has never ceased to pour his love into our hearts. At night, frequently, I found my daughter crying,” she pointed to the girl staring down into the site.
“When I went to her she would say how she would not have her dad to accompany her down the aisle,” she said. “Somehow, I always find the right words to console her at once. God is so good to us. My husband was making plans for the two of us to go to Paradise Island in November to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Now, the only thing that makes me mad is that he has gone to Paradise before me.”
Deeply impressed by this stout-hearted Christian woman, I asked her not only to join us in prayer but if she would kindly give her testimony to the women who had come to pray.
Not one of the moms had a dry eye.
In Toronto, one month ago, the Holy Father addressed 800,000 young people:
“You are young, and the Pope is old and a bit tired. But he still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. 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. 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.”
For me, Nancy is living testimony of this hope. So are many other victim families.
I have yet to meet a victim family who seethes with anger and seeks revenge. The patience and will to forgiveness of so many Sept. 11 victim families speaks volumes about the greatness of American Christians.
Recently, in Ireland and also in Mexico, when I shared stories like this, educated young people could hardly believe what I was saying. From their media information, they imagined the American anti-terrorist measures and war-talk as filled with vengeance, explainable only in terms of hate and revenge. The true story has to be told.
Revenge is far from Christ's heart. It is not his image. How grateful I am to God that I could witness how his American children are growing ever more Christ-like in this regard.
You, who mourn, thank you for strengthening us all.
Legionary of Christ priest Father Eamon Kelly writes from New York.