Sunday, September 11, 2016

On 9/11, "God of Love, Comfort and Console Us, Strengthen Us In Hope"

In the annals of the modern papacy, it is essentially unheard of for the same non-liturgical text to be employed by successive Popes.

There is, however, one exception – and it's rooted in the memory of this very morning. So to mark this 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, here's the Prayer at Ground Zero first used by Pope Benedict XVI on his 2008 visit to the site...

...the moment then reincarnated in turn by Pope Francis at last year's interfaith service during his own pilgrimage to the newly-built memorial:

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.
Even if it's the case that, once the Pope speaks another's words, history takes them as his own, given the unique nature of the Ground Zero Prayer and its historic use across pontificates, we'd be remiss to not pay a long-overdue tribute to the eminent churchwoman who gave it to Benedict, Francis and us all, yet has never once claimed credit for it: the venerable Sister of Charity Janet Baxendale, who penned the text as worship chief of the archdiocese of New York.

* * *
Back to today, in the place whose standing as The Nation's Church was powerfully reaffirmed in the aftermath of destruction, yesterday saw the FDNY's commemoration of the milestone in St Patrick's Cathedral, the Cardinal-Archbishop presiding (service begins at 15-minute mark):

Meanwhile, in a reflection of the shifted balance of pulpits in American Catholicism's top rank, the following statement was issued this morning from Rome by Francis' lead North American adviser, Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap. of Boston, on the eve of the next meeting of the pontiff's "Gang of 9":
Anniversaries, be they of joyful, sad or tragic events, are times of reflection, moments of gratitude or sorrow accounting for lessons learned and hopes for the future. The fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a day which warrants prayerful attention in the Catholic community and deserves thoughtful reflection in our nation as a whole.

The first priority for our Archdiocese is remembrance of those lost in these unconscionable attacks. The celebration of the Eucharist reminds us that the light of Christ is not extinguished by darkness and evil. This Sunday we pray in a special way for the innocent civilians and the public safety first responders whose lives were taken when hijacked planes were used as means of destruction in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and for the families and loved ones of the victims. We also remember all those in the military, government service who have made the ultimate sacrifice of service in the international conflicts which have engulfed the world since September 11, 2001. As Catholics our prayer extends to all who people who have died in these conflicts and to the tens of thousands of refugees driven from their homes and lands.

This fifteenth anniversary also recalls the meaning we attribute to 9/11 and its consequences. In the first instance, it was a terrorist attack on civilians which violated all established moral and legal norms of conduct. The events of that day also illustrated for our country and others a fundamental vulnerability to modern acts of terrorism. Since then, many nations have experienced similar forms of violence. These numerous attacks and the responses of large scale military operations have been further complicated by appeals to religion as a motivating factor in terrorist violence. These appeals have no defensible foundation or justification. Notably, Muslim leaders have time and again repudiated the call to violence. The responses to terror by the United States and other nations are based in an established moral-legal foundation, but they have also caused large scale civilian casualties and in specific cases have had devastating consequences for entire countries.

Full and appropriate consideration of the tragic events of 9/11 goes beyond the scope of a single day, even this anniversary. However, there are fundamental principles which should inform all of our reflection and analysis:

·Religion cannot and should not be placed in the service of wars of terror or aggression, the use of deadly force is morally justifiable only in circumstances of defense of life and safety.

·All religious leadership, regardless of denomination, should actively seek and advocate to resolve conflicts through peace and reconciliation.

·Refugees and migrants have rights which must be recognized and as best possible provided for by states, international organizations and religious communities.

·Restoration following the conflicts of the last fifteen years will require both meaningful international cooperation and significant financial and humanitarian resources from public and private sources.

On this day of remembrance, we join with all people of good will in commending those lost on September 11, 2001 to the mercy of our loving God as we renew the commitment to work for a society based in compassion, justice and peace.