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On today’s 11th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, we pray for those who lost their lives, their families, or their friends. We also pray for peace and an end to all forms of violence.

Last year, our staff shared their reflections on that fateful day. We invite you to revisit these stories and share your own.

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During the week leading up to the tenth anniversary, RENEW International reflects on 9/11 with stories, prayer, and scripture.

Photo by Det. Greg Semendinger (NYC Police Aviation Unit)

Ten years ago, I was working for a major international bank on the sixth floor at 4 World Trade Center. 4 World Trade Center was one of the lower black buildings that surrounded the two towers. I had finished responding to emails, and I began to review tedious budget reports. As other staff members were arriving, I heard a tremendous explosion, and our building shook. Looking out the window, I saw particles of glass and burning paper; immediately, all staff walked to the stairs and left the building.

The first image that will always be with me is the surreal environment minutes after the first plane hit the north tower. It was a beautiful, clear morning with a brilliant blue sky, but there was heavy black smoke coming from the top of the north tower! No one spoke. There was no traffic noise; there were no sirens; there was just silence.

I could not bear to watch what was happening, so I walked south with a few colleagues down to the Battery. I called my wife, Janet, and asked her to tell my children that I was alright. Within two hours, both towers fell. The second image that is always with me is the thick, black smoke that surrounded us as the towers fell with a loud rumble. I left Manhattan on the Staten Island ferry with my colleagues and we went to the home of one of them, where I stayed the night. I was finally able to return to my home the next day.

I wish I had gone home that evening. There was a spontaneous Mass at Church that evening, and my entire family attended. I should have been there to pray and thank God that I had escaped.

It has been a long and emotional ten years for me. For the first several years, I thought about that horrible day while going to work, during lunch, coming home, and before going to sleep. I thought and prayed for the loved ones who never made it home that day. I was depressed, and I became very anxious and worried about my family because I feared that one of them would be suddenly killed in an accident and never have a chance to say goodbye, just like the victims of 9/11.

In 2005, I left my career on Wall Street and was very fortunate to begin a new career at RENEW. I am convinced that my experiences at RENEW, the interaction with a kind and generous staff, and participation in a valuable pastoral ministry have made me a better person and a much better Catholic. I am now more thankful for all the support that Janet, my children, and other family members and friends offered me ten years ago and continue to offer to this day.

I will never forget the tragedy of September 11, 2001 and I am not sure how I will emotionally experience this Sunday’s anniversary. I will remember and pray for all those who have suffered, for the thousands whose earthly lives ended in an instant, and for their families and friends. I cannot even attempt to understand how they feel and suffer.

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During the week leading up to the tenth anniversary, RENEW International reflects on 9/11 with stories, prayer, and scripture.

September 11, 2001 arrived on the campus of the University of Notre Dame just as it arrived in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. – with crystal blue, cloudless skies and warm breezes. The Notre Dame students had gone off to their first classes of the day or to late breakfasts, beginning their day much like the folks in the Financial District and the Pentagon who had hurried to their work and meetings. No one had any expectation of the tragic events about to descend on our country.

That morning, I was just calling a friend in Ohio from my room at the University of Notre Dame to ask for hospitality for another friend driving there in a few days for a wedding. When my friend answered the phone, I began making my request, and she interrupted me to say it would not be possible. Her voice sounded strained, and when I asked what was bothering her, she asked if I had my TV on and if I had heard the news from New York. I had not, so she gave me a brief report. I hung up the phone, immediately turned on the TV, and began a day like none I had lived thus far.

Shortly after, students began returning from classes and the dining halls. Some came in quiet tears, some in quiet conversation, some in complete silence. All of them stayed in groups, and anyone walking alone soon had at least one companion. They all had the same shocked look on their faces. The residence halls quickly filled with the sounds of TV newscasters keeping us updated on the unfolding events. There was an air of agitation in the dorms. More and more students began making plans to jump on planes or hop into cars to go and help. Some had relatives back east, but most just saw a need and had to respond. We had to calm them down and explain that there were no roads open into Manhattan or Washington, and that all airports were shut down across the country. Some did not listen, but we expected that. Some made it all the way, but others eventually turned back.

The desire to serve where there was a need came naturally to our students, but their true response came later in the day. That afternoon, the university grounds crew began to set up an outdoor stage with a portable altar, a sound system, and chairs for the priests, choir and musicians, lectors, and eucharistic ministers. As 5 p.m. drew near, quiet groups of students began filtering out of the residence halls. People from the neighborhoods around campus, faculty and staff, maintenance workers and housekeepers, and police and fire personnel gathered close to the altar. The singing began, and we all gathered to remember and to pray for the dead and injured, for their families and friends, for those who would be there to help in rescue and recovery, and for each other as we grieved, feared what might happen next, and hoped all would be well despite the knowledge that all would be changed.

Through that celebration of the Eucharist, we came together as the body of Christ, a community united in its belief that God would hold and comfort all of us in the midst of something beyond our comprehension. We still did not know why it happened and had no clue about what would happen in the days to come, but for an hour or so we felt peace – peace the world could never give us. What we would do with that feeling was left up to us and would continue to be lived out in the years to come.

Ten years later, our prayers continue. Prayers for peace and tolerance, prayers for mercy and forgiveness, prayers for a world that lets God’s rule overpower all others and guide us to that place where our swords can be turned into plowshares. We continue to pray.

Sister Pat is a member of the RENEW staff, a Dominican Sister, and a huge Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish fan.

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During the week leading up to the tenth anniversary, RENEW International reflects on 9/11 with stories, prayer, and scripture.

“’Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:22)

This Sunday is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Ten years ago this Sunday, almost 3,000 people were killed when four hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a western Pennsylvania field. Ten years ago, millions of lives around the world were permanently changed because of this event. Children lost parents, wives lost husbands, a war began – a war that is still being fought.

So very few are able to forgive when the hurt is so deep and the tragedy is so great.

This Sunday’s Gospel goes contrary to this universal human instinct to hold on to hurt. Peter is an excellent example of someone who knows that he should forgive, but, like many of us, feels that there is a limit to forgiveness. Peter expected Jesus to congratulate him for his noble proposal to offer forgiveness seven* times.

Jesus teaches us that we must always forgive because we have been greatly forgiven. No matter how big the hurt, we must forgive. As long as we do not forgive others, then we cannot hope for God’s forgiveness. We say it every time we say the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Unwillingness to forgive fuels the fires of resentment and bitterness and leaves us unable to heal.

We must forgive in order to be forgiven and, through this forgiveness, finally find peace.

* Seven, a powerful symbol in the Old Testament, connotes completeness; as in the seventh day marking the completion of creation.

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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During the week leading up to the tenth anniversary, RENEW International reflects on 9/11 with stories, prayer, and scripture.

Photograph by John Labriola

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks we heard many stories of airline passengers and workers at the Twin Towers, knowing they would die, making last minute phone calls to loved ones. Some reached a person, others left a message, but their words were the same, “I love you.” I remember hearing one particular story of a man who called his wife on his cell phone; there was no answer. He called his mom – no answer. His time was running out and in desperation he called the operator. He asked her to pray with him, and together they prayed the one prayer they both knew: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, your kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

We all remember where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. As the events unfolded, what seemed unreal became a stark and horrifying reality. However, in the midst of death and tragedy tales of heroism, courage, and generosity emerged.

In a powerful article, Learning from 9/11 in America magazine, David O’Brien writes: “I could not stop looking at those powerful iconic photographs—images of sacrifice, death and heroic generosity. In one image a young fireman, Michael Kehoe, a 9/11 survivor, is ascending the stairs as office workers quickly descend. Later one of those office workers, John Labriola, an employee of the Post Authority of New York and New Jersey, reportedly said: “The one conclusion I came to on 9/11 is that people in the stairwell…really were in a ‘state of grace.’ They helped each other. They didn’t panic. Most people are basically good. I know this, with certainty, because I had gone through the crucible. What a great example people left: be selfless, help the person around you, and get through it.” (Aug. 29-Sept. 5, 2011)

Through the lens of faith we see that tragedy and deep suffering also can be experiences of unexpected grace and new life. This is the heart of our Christian faith; it is what we celebrate every Sunday at Mass—the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. The Paschal Mystery is Christ passing through suffering and death to resurrection and returning to the Father.

Our times of unrelenting illness, deep grief, and unimaginable tragedy can become events of new life and grace in our own lives. Only God can transform a method of torture—the cross or the work of evil, a burning stairwell—into a place where people can experience a state of grace.

On this tenth anniversary of 9/11 let us be inspired by the many women and men who moved beyond fear and terror and reached out to help one another. We need faith, we need community, and we need to help one another get through painful experiences. Let us remember the challenging words of one survivor: Be selfless, help the person around you, and get through it.

Sister Terry is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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