Franciscan Spirit Blog

9/11: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Old photo of Manhattan | Photo by History in HD on Unsplash

It’s hard to believe that more than two decades have passed since 9/11. It seems like only yesterday and yet a lifetime ago. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives—in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania—and the shadow of that day looms still. As we mark this anniversary, we asked three people these questions: What are your thoughts on where we as a nation have been, and what is your prayer for where are going?

Here are their answers.

‘Peace be with you’

I was a senior in high school on 9/11, and, oddly enough, I was in a class called 20th-Century History when the towers came down. Our teacher, keenly aware that what was happening was a world-changing type of event, rolled out a cart with a television on it and tuned in to the live news coverage. I’ll never forget what he said that day: “What we’re seeing now is 21st-century history.”

He was right, and, sadly, it was just the beginning. The brief moment of unity many of us felt in the first few weeks after 9/11 quickly dissipated, our country was at war, and xenophobia and Islamophobia intensified. I found myself struggling with the question of how justice could be rendered without perpetuating cycles of violence and hatred. Jesus’ words to the disciples in John 20:19 gently guide us to the only right way to respond: “Peace be with you.”

Strikingly similar are the words of the standard greeting among Muslims: As-Salaam-Alaikum, or “Peace be upon you.” My prayer for the world, now 22 years after the events of 9/11, is that we dig deep and resist the temptation to be vengeful and violent, seemingly justified by grief and indignation. May we warmly embrace our brothers and sisters from other faiths in the same spirit of that Arabic greeting, which so closely mirrors the words of Christ. —Daniel Imwalle

The Slow Work of God

As I reflect on the anniversary of 9/11, Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer “Patient Trust” grounds me: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”

I’m drawn to the story of the scarred “Survivor Tree.” A few brutal months after the September attack, a mangled pear tree, still living, was wrenched from the ashes of the fallen buildings and given to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. True to God’s slow work, after nearly a decade, in 2010, the tree had been nurtured enough to be replanted near where the Twin Towers once loomed.

Three years after that, in 2013, its new branches were strong enough to give seedlings to the newly wounded places in our world. Recipients of these tiny new pear trees include the shattered landscapes of mass shootings, hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, and bombings. No matter the horrific struggles still smoldering, the tree we turn to, Christ’s cross, can be seen as the original Survivor Tree.

The ache of 9/11 will never fade. It shouldn’t fade. But we can find hope and resilience in the trees cycling through season after season as years pass. We can trust the slow work of an orchard growing, of buds growing brighter, opening into blossoms. The slow work of God. —Maureen O’Brien

Never Forgotten

Hours after the second tower in New York City fell, a television reporter from one of the networks approached a woman on a street in Paris for her reaction to the terrorist attacks earlier that day. She offered a broken smile and said, “Today we are all Americans.” It was a singular comment from a nameless person in Europe, but there was a sense that the international community wanted to shoulder some of the pain. We weren’t a collection of disparate countries, but one wounded world.

After the dust settled, two wars followed—and our reputation within that international community suffered. Our own behaviors shifted as well. Over the ensuing years, unfamiliarity with Islam made way for something far more dangerous: suspicion. But as Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. There is very little room for negotiations there.

My prayer is that we model our behavior on St. Francis, who was unintimidated by battle lines to build peace with the sultan. I pray that we remember the people who lost their lives on 9/11. I pray, especially, that we meditate on these words from Pope Francis, who commemorated their sacrifice: “The names of so many loved ones are written around the towers’ footprints. We can see them, we can touch them, and we can never forget them.” —Christopher Heffron

Check out our interfaith prayer for 9/11.

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7 thoughts on “9/11: Looking Back, Moving Forward”

  1. I was not familiar with the story of the pear tree. That is beautiful. I am glad that there is at least one story of healing & of beauty from the ashes.
    I was commuting to work from Queens into Manhattan on the Q24 Express bus & from the Expressway we saw the fire & smoke from the first & then the second building. I was late getting into work but eventually got to my job on Third Avenue between 43rd & 44th Streets. We were allowed to leave work but I stayed at work until after 4pm & by that time subway service returned. I took the subway, walked back to my car & drove to my parents’ house. I was supposed to have a Liturgy Committee meeting at my parish but when I arrived a Mass was ending & I was told that the meeting had been cancelled. I was very blessed that none of my family members or friends had been killed or injured. But the husband of a member of my Secular Franciscan fraternity was a fire chief in Elmhurst & he was involved in the fire fighting & life saving efforts, developed cancer as a result & died several years later.
    Amidst the terrible tragedy of 9/11/2001 we briefly saw America & Americans & New Yorkers at their best. People who did not know each other joined hands to help each other walk across bridges. So many heroes risked & even gave their lives to save & help others. People flocked to their places of worship. We even had a televised interfaith prayer service in which Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Seiks & probably Himdus & Buddhists shared prayer. The evil & destructive act of the perpetrators of the senseless attacks that caused the death of so many people, health issues from which people are still suffering & dying over 20 years later, & destruction of property brought out a spirit of unity, self sacrificing love, generosity, hospitality, faith, love of country & of our fellow Americans & a rededication to the JUDEO-CHRISTIAN principles & values & love of liberty upon which our nation was built. At a time when we were used to reasons to be ashamed of America & of New York City we found the good in our people, our city & our country.
    I had hoped that 9/11 would have been a wakeup call for our country to turn back to GOD, to Church, to morality, to unity, but 22 years later there is so much hatred, division, immorality, & anti-Christian agendas.
    We need to remember who we were in the wake of 9/11/2001 & try to recapture who we were & turn back to GOD & His ways as we did for one brief time.

  2. M husband and I were scheduled to perform ahead of Hillsong in Ames Iowa at an event, but they were unable to fly out of New York that day, so the event was cancelled.
    Moments after the first tower was hit, I said to my husband this is a terrorist attack. and before even knowing the event was cancelled, we made the decision not to go. My mother was going to spend the night and get our three young daughters off to school in the morning, but there was no way we were going to leave them in the midst of a terrorist attack.
    I remember at 10 am the emergency warning siren went off as it always did on Tuesdays, I was so shaken to the core that I wasn’t even thinking about it being Tuesday. It was terrifying, until my husband reminded me it Tuesday. I was never so thankful to see my girls after school that day. As I was tucking them into bed that night my middle daughter said to me momma, they aren’t going to blow us up in the middle of the night while we sleep, are they? Our world was forever changed. We were unable to stop watching as it all unfolded. We prayed for all that lost their lives and all the brave men and women that were a part of the rescue efforts. We should never ever forget.

  3. Peace my friends
    I was at work that morning in 2001. We watched the news on TV unfold. My deepest thought at the time – Please God do not let this be the IRA (Irish Republican Army). A lot of us had a change of heart for the better that morning.

  4. Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Inflame our hearts with a burning love for you and with an expectant faith in your saving power. Take our lives and all that we have as an offering of love for you, who are our All. Amen.

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