Salesian Father Peter Philominraj has assisted at Our Lady of Victory in New York's financial district for the past 14 months. A native of India, the 35-year-old priest was just nearing the end of the third morning Mass at the popular downtown church when a plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center about four blocks away. Father Philominraj told Register correspondent Brian McGuire what happened next.
What happened at the church after the first plane struck?
We usually have the third Mass at 8:20 in the morning. As that Mass was getting over around 8:45, there was a big noise. People said that a plane had struck one of the buildings. One person was outside. He came running into the church with all the debris on him already. He came running and he told us to pray. After he said that, everybody said “Oh my God,” and a group formed to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There were about 40 of them. And then there was a second blast.
What happened then?
After the second blast someone came inside and said there was someone dying just outside the church. I was still inside. He was saying it to our secretary. Three of us went out and anointed the man.
He was just outside the church in the street. They were just carrying him onto the street.
Could you describe the scene then?
As people escaped from the buildings, some of them were making confessions. “Give me a blessing, Father,” they'd ask, with a lot of shock in their face. I heard one or two confessions. They were all hurrying away, but they'd say, “Just give me absolution, Father,” as they hurried to get out of the place.
What about the priests? What did you do?
We were all there trying to calm people. We had actually been moving toward the World Trade Center when the buildings came down. We were walking toward it thinking we could help people out with the sacraments.
At which point did you turn around to escape?
People started running toward us, so all of us ran away with everybody else. We couldn't see anything for quite some time. We ran for two blocks. People were falling down, panicking, screaming. The whole time we were hearing “Oh, my God!” We came back to the church while everybody else went to the Brooklyn Bridge and the South Street Seaport.