Just two weeks ago we commemorated the 13th anniversary of the horrendous September 11th terrorist attack upon our nation which brought down the massive Twin Towers in New York City as well as assailing the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and crashing a commercial airline flight in western Pennsylvania. The 9/11 attacks killed 2,977 people who spanned the ages from 3 to 85 and represented 90 nations around the world. Of those who died, more than 400 were first responders carrying out their public service. It was a devastating day on which the power of evil and hatred were frighteningly real. It was also a day upon which many responded to that evil with the power of love and goodness which, as always, conquers evil.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial in New York City which opened on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. This Memorial consists of two pools of water set in the original foundations of the Twin Towers. Thirty foot waterfalls, the largest in North America, powerfully cascade into the pools which descend into central voids. The names of those who lost their lives at the Towers are inscribed on the bronze walls which surround the pools. The area surrounding the pools is adorned with swamp white oak trees. The exception is a Callery pear tree which is known as the "survivor tree." After 9/11, workers found this damaged tree in the wreckage at Ground Zero and it was nursed back to health in a nearby city park growing to be 30 feet tall. It embodies the story of the survival which followed the 9/11 attack.
I was very moved by the Memorial as I looked into the massive pools and the center voids where the cascading water was flowing. The sense of the visitors surrounding the Memorial was one of great reverence and respect. Reading the names of the victims upon the bronze walls of the pools and listening to the rushing sound of the water, I could not help but to think of the Sacrament of Baptism. In Baptism, we are immersed in water which also cascades over us to a death to self and evil. What appears to be a burying in the void results in the new life of Jesus Christ as we come up from the water. We are buried in Baptism with Christ and rise with Him to new life. Truly, the evil and sin that were so horrendously present on September 11, 2001, was conquered through the power of the goodness of those who came to the aid of all those involved in that tragedy. The grace of God was at work and the promise of Christ was evident which is that it is He who will always conquer evil. Ultimately, He will always be the one to prevail.
As I looked into the waters of the 9/11 Memorial, I did so at a time when a new upsurge of terror hangs over the world. Unfortunately, evil is still very active and I could not have the sense of peace that the terrorist attack of 9/11 is well behind us as I contemplated what has almost miraculously been transformed from the horrid scene of the downed Twin Towers. Vivid images were appearing in the media of slain men and women, as well as young children, resulting from the scourges of violence in Iraq, Syria, Gaza and other parts of the Middle East. These images as well as those of journalists and aid workers, ready to be beheaded at the hands of extremists, haunt us all. It is obvious that we can never rest secure that the evils of 9/11 will not happen again as they are truly occurring before us. Christians, and other people of good faith, are being tortured, slain and exiled in the name of faith in God. Our concern is not only the legitimate one that such extremists may again attack close to home but also that these atrocities are occurring at all at this time. This year, the commemoration of 9/11 has a new bitterness to it and a face that cannot be ignored. As Pope Francis recently reflected, “Even today after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.” Shadows of hatred and death are cast over the 9/ll Memorial.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for a special day of prayer on Sunday, August 17, for the cause of peace in Iraq. They have urged all Catholic people to let their elected representatives know of their concern for Christians and other religious minorities who are in dire straits in Iraq, Syria and other countries. In conjunction with all of the other dioceses within our country, our diocese is taking up a special collection to assist our brothers and sisters and other innocent victims of the violence in the Middle East. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, himself, has voiced that this violence, inhumanity and despicable destruction cannot continue.
As we so vividly within our own nation remember the horrors of 9/11, we join with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East in earnest prayer and appeal. We realize that Christ will always overcome the power of evil with the power of good. It is His Death and Resurrection which gives us meaning in life and will ultimately prevail in the final age. However, it is precisely His message which impels us not to be silent in the face of the overwhelming evil which presents its face today. We must pray, join and live as followers of Jesus Christ so that we need not build memorials which recall the evil that destroys humanity. As Christians, we must realize that Satan is alive and uses the most deceptive means of making others forget that he is real and by even using religion as a means of destruction.
May our nation continue to heal from the destruction of the terrible events of September 11, 2001. May we never forget this tragic day within our nation as its possibility is always real. We pray and join with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and our fellow Christians and others in Iraq who are suffering violence and persecution at the hands of extremists, so that they may know peace and healing. May the power of Jesus Christ always prevail so that those who perpetrate these evil acts may know true conversion of heart since God's grace can touch and change even the most evil of hearts and cast out the shadows of evil.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
September 26, 2014