Signs of the Times

Catholics Pray, Agencies Assist in Wake of Terrorist Attacks

Catholic bishops and priests led prayers and church-run hospitals and agencies mobilized to assist the victims in the wake of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Virtually every Catholic church in the United States scheduled a special service on Sept. 11 or 12 or opened for private prayers following the hijacking of four airplanes that then crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington and into the ground in Pennsylvania. St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York’s Greenwich Village cared for more than 300 of those injured from the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers on the first day of the tragedy and sent chaplains throughout the hospital to reassure all its patients.

Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York spoke for many when he said at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “For all of us this has been a terrible day, but we are not afraid.” Exhorting people to avoid fear, he also urged them to avoid personal hatred for the perpetrators. “As an American citizen, I want justice done in a court of law,” he said. But he said Americans should not give way to hate and think in terms of retaliation or “an eye for an eye.”


At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II dedicated his entire Wednesday general audience to the attacks, calling Sept. 11 “a dark day in the history of humanity” and asking pilgrims to join him in prayer. “The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people,” the pope told 25,000 pilgrims, who hung on his words in an eerily quiet St. Peter’s Square. “But faith comes to our aid when words seem to fail,” he said. “Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say.”

Pope John Paul II said he was horrified at the “inhuman terrorist attacks” in the United States. The pope sent an unusually speedy telegram to President Bush several hours after the attacks began. “Shocked by the unspeakable horror of today’s inhuman terrorist attacks against innocent people in different parts of the United States, I hurry to express to you and your fellow citizens my profound sorrow and my closeness in prayer for the nation at this dark and tragic moment,” the papal telegram said. “Commending the victims to almighty God’s eternal mercy, I implore his strength upon all involved in rescue efforts and in caring for the survivors. I beg God to sustain you and the American people in this hour of suffering and trial,” he wrote.

As a shocked nation watched the destruction, bishops around the country called for prayer. “It is not a time for words. It is a time for prayers,” said Bishop Kenneth E. Untener of Saginaw, Mich. “The tenderness of God goes out to everyone touched by this—which is all of us.” Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., where the Pentagon is located, asked everyone to pray “for an end to the madness of terrorism and violence.”

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington celebrated a Mass at midday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “We must pray for our nation, this beloved United States of America. In the continual search for peace and justice, we must resist the temptation to strike out in vengeance or revenge, or lay blame on any ethnic groups,” he said in his homily.

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston called the attacks “a dark day for humanity” during the daily noon Mass on Sept. 12 at the U.S. bishops’ headquarters in Washington. “We have witnessed the degree to which evil can rise,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president told U.S.C.C.B. staff who packed the building’s chapel. He asked the congregation to “do what people of faith do when faced with such violence, what people of faith should do: We turn to God.” He said “Hopefully, people of faith will know that in God’s providence those who suffer, those who weep, will be consoled.”

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia said he was “horrified and overwhelmingly heartsick over the unconscionable and unprovoked attacks.... The shock of these heinous assaults on innocent and unsuspecting people as well as the catastrophic loss of life will leave for a long time a scar on the psyche of the American people,” he added.

Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati said, “Sometimes we don’t know what to say when events of such evil magnitude occur.... We pray for the victims and their families and we pray that the Lord will help us to continue to trust in him,” he added.

Church Leaders Condemn Attack, Pray for Victims

Church leaders worldwide condemned the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and offered prayers and messages of condolence. Some expressed concern about potential retaliatory strikes by the United States. In a message to U.S. bishops and the American people, Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem said the church in the Holy Land was “with you in prayer and feelings.... The Christian communities in Jerusalem and the whole Palestinian people stand with you in these moments and share with you the sadness for the loss of innocent brothers and sisters in humanity and faith,” he said on Sept. 11, the day of the attacks. “We condemn these horrifying crimes, and we were shocked and deeply saddened when we watched the extent of the catastrophe inflicted upon the innocent people.... It is unimaginable to see how catastrophic the extent of terrorism could reach,” he said. The patriarch issued his statement at the same time international news media showed jubilant Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Lebanon celebrating the attacks.

The Rev. Riad Jarjour, general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches—which includes Protestants, Orthodox and Catholics—told a Vatican news agency that Christians in the Middle East, most of whom are Arabs, were shocked and upset at the attacks. “It is true that some have criticized American foreign policy, but the reaction of the Arab people is one of condemning those responsible and [of] closeness to the victims,” Rev. Jarjour said. “The celebrations of some do not in any way express the sentiments of the Palestinian people,” he said.

The executive committee of the World Council of Churches was meeting in Geneva when the attacks occurred and almost immediately issued a statement of solidarity and condolence. The leaders of the council, which represents more than 340 Christian churches and communities, offered special prayers for U.S. leaders, asking that God give them wisdom and courage. “We fervently pray that this is the end of terror and implore those responsible to desist from any further such acts of inhumanity,” the statement said.

Muslims Denounce Terrorism

Islamic organizations in Los Angeles and elsewhere denounced the attacks and called for all Americans to “stand together” during this time of crisis. Mahmoud Abdel-Baset, religious coordinator for the Islamic Center of Southern California, extended his “condolences and sympathies for all those who were touched by the terrorist attacks.”

“It’s senseless; it’s anti-humanity, anti-God—and cannot be looked upon with any other consideration,” he said. “Life is sacred and whoever wastes life is committing a crime against all mankind.... There is no justification.”

Catholic, Religious Leaders Seek to Halt New Farm Bill

Catholic and other religious groups have joined with secular organizations that promote family farming and wildlife conservation to put the brakes on a new 10-year farm bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee earlier this summer. The length of time covered by the bill and the speed with which it sailed through the committee are just two of the points that have angered rural life advocates.

David Andrews, a Holy Cross brother who is head of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, called it “a disaster of a farm bill” during a press briefing. “We need a farm policy that is also a food policy that provides food for the hungry, from family farms, which respects and defends God’s creation. The current House bill fails to do this,” said Brother Andrews.

Bishop Bans From Sacraments Indonesians in Tribal Wars

A bishop on a predominantly Catholic island in eastern Indonesia has banned Catholics who engage in tribal wars from receiving the sacraments. Bishop Eduardus Sangsun of Ruteng also asked parish priests to deny funeral Masses or rites for Catholics killed in tribal wars, reported UCA News. The decree similarly bars Catholics who are involved in gambling operations and land grabbing.

Indian Archbishop Says No ‘Real Exorcism’ for Mother Teresa

Archbishop Henry D’Souza of Calcutta said he asked for special prayers for Mother Teresa’s troubled spirit five years ago, but denied she underwent a “real exorcism,” as some international media reported. Archbishop D’Souza told UCA News that he revealed the “exorcism incident” when an international news agency asked him about holy people experiencing God abandoning them.

The archbishop said he did not believe that Mother Teresa suffered possession, but nevertheless asked a priest to pray over her when he found her restless while being treated in a hospital in Calcutta in 1996, a year before her death.

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