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The Big Apple is really a big heart
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Experiences and Prayers in Manhattan after the September tragedy

New York
These last few days, as I walked the familiar but now eerie Manhattan streets my first question with each person I meet is "have you lost someone?" Very few people were looking for me or wanting to talk. All seemed numbed by shock and sadness. I always had to take the initiative and only in two cases was there strong reluctance which of course I respected.

After hearing some details about their brother or in-law or friend or colleague at work, ...and sharing in their sorrow and helplessness, I tried to sense their religious affiliation and attempt a prayer. A few spoke a prayer from their own heart. Sometimes I concluded offering them a blessing which was most readily and gratefully received. All were so filled with deep gratitude as we parted.

New York is responding marvelously. On Wednesday night when I was finishing up hours at the Bereavement Center on 29th at 1st Ave,, and was speaking with a young German reporter inside the main entrance door, which I was continually opening for police, volunteers, etc, a wheelchair came in and the quadriplegic man whose warped & twisted body called for pity, tried to mumble his wish. After stooping down to him and asking him to repeat his wish 4 times, I understood that he wanted to give blood. After directing him to the hospital next door, the policemen and reporter were deeply impacted when I explained this to them. This case is symbolic of all the NYers who are giving all they have got to help those in need. I suggested to the reporter that NY now be called the big heart, and not just the big apple. There is an extraordinary sense of family. Lord we thank you for this great gift of love to your people.

An almost unbearable weight of sorrow hangs over many hearts. A 90 year old father mourns his 60 year old son; a terminally ill mother mourns her 27 year old fire fighter son while a surviving uncle hastens to make the funeral arrangements. Brothers and sisters are missing. One parish has lost 42 people, many of whom are young parents. 30 parents are missing from one school. There is incredible hurt, but more amazingly, among those with whom I have spoken, a mature forgiveness and lack of will to revenge. Justice must be served, but the people whom I met were not vengeful. I have not heard a single direct victim speak in terms of revenge. Rarely have I seen such an outburst of love of Country combined with such capacity to absorb an unspeakable blow. Anger may surface more as time goes on.

Some people were a little hostile to prayer. Most were deeply grateful for having been approached and expressed that in a prolonged and firm handshake and teary eyes. I have prayed with Catholics, Orthodox, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Born-again, Jews, Muslims, and even vague believers ... People spoke moving prayers for God´s blessings and none for revenge. Let´s pray that universal brotherhood will be advanced and not further damaged in the aftermath.

The prospect that many bodies will not be found will also deprive many of the healing that comes from saying goodbye. Let´s pray for them that they will find peace in other ways.

On the other hand, a young businessman, whom I know, ran his companies from the 79th and on some lower floors. Three of his brothers work with him. The plane hit very close to them, but all the company employees were outside of the building that morning. He plans a mass of thanksgiving. Let´s join in to thank for all who were spared by God´s Providence, often through heroic sacrifice. Lord we thank you for the rescue workers, volunteers, and all who helped and prayed.

Then there are those who feel ´guilty´: for example a brother & sister from out of town who argued their brother into taking a job in the towers a month ago; managers who were not there and who might have ordered their staff out immediately as some did. They too need our prayers so they may attain peace of heart for results far from their intent and control.

Many feel the call to come closer to God, to take all we have less for granted, to ´renew´ their connection with God and the Church, to come back to the sacraments, Sunday Mass, reconciliation after many years away, (yesterday a woman at an airport parking-lot toll-booth was ready for confession and I gave her the absolution right there - her colleague opened up another lane so traffic was not held up) ... let´s pray that all these desires be transformed into reality.

We pray especially for all those responsible for the security of all the innocent people on this Earth. Lord guide our leaders in their decisions, in response to this tragedy, to do justice, provide for our safety and impede recurrence. We pray that the solemn bonds of trust which sustain a free society will never again be so brutally abused. Give us your strength to transform our lives and the whole world.

As someone who came to live here two years ago, and having been exposed in various Countries to the attitudes people often have toward Americans or within the USA toward New Yorkers , these days the American people and New Yorkers in particular have shone in a greatness which I feel bound to share with all peoples I meet. May God continue to bless America.

Fr. Eamon Kelly LC, NY, in tragic September 2001.


PUBLICATION DATE: 2001-09-25


 
 

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