By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published September 16, 2010 | En Español
Since I began writing a regular column back in 1995 I have never repeated a column for either The Messenger, the Belleville, Ill. diocesan newspaper, or The Georgia Bulletin, our own archdiocesan newspaper. The issues upon which I reflect are always changing and unique to each community that I have been privileged to serve, and they vary with time and with circumstances. In spite of that I have looked back on the events that surrounded September 11, 2001, and the situations that we face today, nine years later. What I wrote in response to 9/11 at that time bears repeating today. This is especially the case since we seem to have forgotten some of the lessons which that tragedy taught us about tolerance, respect for others, national unity and the importance of not demonizing others because of the differences that distinguish us.
Following is my column from The Messenger, Sept. 28, 2001:
‘Nothing will ever be the same!’ Just how many times have we heard that during the past two weeks? I suppose that simply returning to something of a normal routine will be very difficult for most of us. When I was at the recent convocation for our priests, I must admit that I jumped when I heard the fireworks explosions that came from Busch Stadium during the opening ceremonies as baseball returned to America. Air traffic is struggling because people are uncertain about the safety of air travel. The financial markets, which were already shaky before Sept. 11, are even more unsettled. Things have changed.
Many of the things that have changed are unnerving for us. However, there are changes that seem to be graces from God Himself. Some of those changes are a renewed spirit of national pride, signs of unity among all Americans, and a rebirth of our spiritual heritage. Churches were abnormally crowded on Sunday, Sept. 16. People went to churches, synagogues and mosques throughout our nation to pray on the days that followed the tragic attacks on our homeland. Those who usually challenge or ridicule religious faith and its practices as opposed to our national laws had the good sense just not to say anything.
Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a tragedy to jolt people back to their roots. We all seem to grow complacent when we are too comfortable. We all tend to rely too much on our own inner strength, our own resources, our lawyers, and our own abilities until we discover that none of them are sufficient in themselves. These changes in our behavior in light of the tragedies we have endured may be a reflection of a deeper change of heart that may be more enduring than even our memories. At least I hope they are more enduring.
I must confess that I am still amazed at the quickness of the change in our national character. Only three or four days before composing this column, we were all waving flags and very confident in our national identity. As we grow distant from the terrible events that shook us to our roots, there may be a tendency to return to our old comfortable ways of speaking and responding. Yet, I hope that things have really changed for us.
We have been encouraged to see European-, Hispanic-, African-, Native- and Asian-Americans coming together in a spirit of unity without even remembering the differences that seemed so important a month ago. All of a sudden, Spanish as another language spoken in America does not seem all that strange—in the light of the languages that are spoken in parts of the world that we now consider dangerous.
‘Nothing will ever be the same.’ We will be a different people because of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. My prayer is that we will see one another in a more favorable light—perhaps even as brothers and sisters. Such a new light might even prove beneficial to those who now seem strange and perhaps enemies as many of us might be tempted to envision them. Arab-Americans are our brothers and sisters who come from a part of the world that seems strange and distant. Most may follow a religious tradition that is neither Christian nor Jewish but ancient nonetheless.
Things have changed. What needs to change are hearts that are opened to Arab-Americans who have lived here and prayed here and contributed to our nation in ways as precious as those of any other people. Life will never be the same. Hopefully, one of the things that will never be the same is the sense of fear that we might have of those who might be a little different in appearance or religious tradition—but are very much like us in all other ways.