By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published September 15, 2011
With a wreath of remembrance placed before the Cathedral’s St. Joseph altar, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said the Sunday readings for Sept. 11, 2011, offered wisdom for people everywhere reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States.
The reading from the Book of Sirach says that “wrath and anger are hateful things,” subject to God’s judgment. It also says, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”
The scriptural admonition “should not be squandered” on the national day of remembering the nearly 3,000 killed in New York, outside Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania, Archbishop Gregory said in his homily at the noon Mass.
It was one of many liturgies around the archdiocese shaped to bind up a day of grief and reflection with dignity and prayer, including an ecumenical service focusing on first responders and service members held at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta.
“Today’s commemoration, if it is to be truly fruitful and worthy of those who lost their lives and those who grieve the loss of loved ones, cannot be about vengeance,” Archbishop Gregory said.
“Ultimately (it) must be about gratitude for the extraordinary goodness and remarkable generosity of those public servants and heroic individuals who 10 years ago placed their own lives in jeopardy in order to save the lives of others,” he said.
“To give God thanks for the heroic offering of the lives of public servants, of our military personnel, of those who gave so selflessly 10 years ago is more than an appropriate addition to our Eucharistic offering,” he said.
The Mass of remembrance, concelebrated by Father Frank McNamee, pastor, and all the priests serving at the Cathedral of Christ the King, included a tribute beforehand as students in junior ROTC from North Atlanta High School and representatives of the Atlanta police and fire departments brought in flags and the large wreath and placed them at the side altar. Two active military members, who are parishioners, brought up the offertory gifts. Music by the Cathedral Schola, directed by Kevin Culver, included sung prayers for eternal rest for those who died. Following Mass, Cathedral organist Timothy Wissler played Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
Yet the weight of loss and remembrance was filtered and lightened by the celebration of the Eucharist in a Sunday Mass filled with many families.
Archbishop Gregory said there are many different emotions and reactions to the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001.
“To allow any one … to dominate or set aside all the others would be to neglect the deep significance of this day,” he said.
In addition to gratitude, he said, there is “an unambiguous pride in our great nation which … has become a home for so many people … and has fashioned into one citizenry the great variety of people who come to these shores seeking freedom and opportunity.”
“There is obviously also room…for sorrow at the great loss of life and for renewed determination to secure our future and to disavow any use of terrorism or such random acts of violence as we encountered 10 years ago today.”
Filled with memories, he concluded, “we ask God to grant us peace—an enduring and lasting peace so that events such as took place a decade ago may never dawn upon any people, anywhere, ever again.”
One of the servicemen asked to take part in the Cathedral Mass was a youth in 2001, but is now active in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I think the remembrance is symbolic of the great tragedy the nation went through. It is right to give respect and to remember and also move forward in a spirit of compassion and love,” said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Andrew Fiddes, his wife of three months, Christina, at his side.
The other serviceman, U.S. Army Maj. Anthony Le, was at officer training school at Fort Meade, Md., in 2001. After the attacks of Sept. 11, he volunteered to go to Iraq, serving 18 months until he was injured and sent to Germany. He has since done a second tour of duty in Iraq and a tour in Afghanistan where he was struck when a roadside bomb exploded, losing a finger. Now he and his wife have a 21-month-old son.
The day of remembrance “is very moving,” said Le, a Vietnamese-American. “All the memories come back.”
When he was recovering from his injuries in a hospital, he realized he only had God to cling to, Le said.
“As Catholics and as Americans we should never forget that God is the only salvation. God is the only healer,” he said. “Without God we cannot be anything.”
“After 9/11, we came together,” he said.
People need to come together in church, in prayer, not only in bad times, but also in good times, Le said.
“September 11 can remind us life without God, society without God, is evil,” he said.
At St. Thomas Aquinas Church that evening, an ecumenical prayer service blended prayer, song and Scripture, remembering Sept. 11 victims and their families and the more than 6,000 U.S. service members who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
“We lifted up the more than 6,000 military service members who have sacrificed their all in the terrific and terrible war against global terrorism,” wrote Father Greg Goolsby, pastor, by email. “And still we prayed in the hope for peace in our ravaged world, a peace in Christ that is far beyond our human dreams and understanding. We prayed for Godly peace.”
“I hope, and feel, that we did justice to the memory of fallen heroes of 9/11, and to our fellow citizens who perished that awful day 10 years ago,” he wrote. “The wounds of that day remain forever etched in our memories. None of us will ever be able to forget that bright September morning when absolutely everything changed in America. Yet, we prayed last night not only in memory for the fallen and for American innocence that was ripped away from us, but also for a future that will be the peace of Jesus Christ in a battered world.”