On September 11, 2001, we can all remember where we were when the Twin Towers crumbled. We can recall vividly how horrified we were as we watched on television the videotaped images of the towers as they collapsed, as people fleeing the scene were chased by huge, gray clouds of debris. We can all remember how shocked we were to learn that another plane hit the Pentagon—and yet another went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. On that day, President George W. Bush addressed the nation and promised to bring to justice those who planned these acts of terrorism. He also pledged that we, Americans, would never forget those who lost their lives on September 11.
Since that day, we have erected memorials to commemorate the victims, emergency workers and volunteers whose souls left us on 9/11. We have yearly prayer services in our parishes, at the sites where these atrocities occurred, accompanied by images, the ringing of bells, the lighting of candles and the rollcall of those who died.
When I was pastor of St. James in Basking Ridge from 2005 to 2014, I quickly learned that the town had lost 23 people on September 11, 2001. On each anniversary, I was invited to represent the parish at the Shrine of St. Joseph, in Sterling, where a concelebrated Mass was offered for the families of those who lost loved ones in the area. The Mass was held outside under a huge memorial bell tower, fabricated from two steel girders taken from the World Trade Center. On this morning, the Mass would be celebrated around an altar set up at the base of the memorial bell tower. During the Mass, a representative of each family would carry a flower and a vigil candle and place these on a table beneath the bells. As each name was given voice through the microphone, the personwho pronounced that name stepped up to the lowest and biggest bell of the memorial tower, and struck the bell with a rubber mallet. Whetherit was sunny or raining, whether it was warm orcool, each time the bell tolled, it seemed that our hearts stopped beating for just a second. Ialways found it moving that with the passage
of time, from 2005 until I left the parish in 2014, the children of those victims grew up before me from toddlers to teens, from teens to adults. Some of the widows remarried, others remained single. Yet, even in light of these ever-evolving mourners, each was faithful to this yearly liturgy, faithfully keeping their word that they would never forget.
Many Catholics make it a point to attend Mass on what we now refer to as “Patriots’ Day.” As an assembly of believers, we remember those who died as well as their survivors, around our church altars, offering what we believe is most efficacious of memorials, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As we receive the Eucharist, may we renew our pledge to never forget what happened on Patriots’ Day, 17 years ago.
May we remember those who died, victims, emergency service workers and volunteers, those who were injured physically, those who carry the scars of that day emotionally. May we promise to lift up to the Lord, those loved ones who, 17 years ago, lost a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, a grandfather, a grandmother, a brother, a sister, a cousin, a neighbor, a colleague, a parishioner, a friend. Through the grace of our annual memorial, may the aforementioned survivors receive solace, always feel loved and muster the courage to hope that while their loved ones may be gone, they will never be forgotten. More importantly, they will never be forsaken by the God who 17 years ago, on September 11, told these men and women what he once said to Jesus: “Arise!”
Father Comandini is managing editor of the Catholic Spirit.