By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published September 1, 2011
A rather unexpected set of circumstances has provided the impetus for the topic of this column. Last week, Russ Spencer from FOX 5 News invited me to comment on the widespread and obviously increasing level of anxiety that many people are feeling in the wake of the various natural and economic disasters that are now besetting us. Like everyone else, I know that we have faced an extraordinary number of unsettling events recently and we sometimes might feel as though the world is spinning out of control. We are all alarmed by the presence of violence and worried by the events of life over which we seem to have little or no control.
Then unexpectedly, last Friday I heard the awful news of the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria—the federal capital city of that nation—a city that Father Dan Ketter and I had visited only 10 days before. We did not visit the specific site of the bombing, but we did visit the Catholic Relief Services’ headquarters and there met many wonderful people who are engaged in the Church’s outreach to the poor in that country.
The staff at CRS is composed of young people from the U.S. and Nigeria. We met a young man from Ohio who had just begun his service at CRS the week before and a young woman from Buffalo who worked with the agency’s outreach program for children and adults who are HIV positive. Both of these fine young people came to Nigeria to assist with the Church’s mission to the poor and did so with very generous hearts. No doubt their own families’ hearts froze when they heard of the terror that struck the city wherein their loved ones resided.
We have not heard of any fatalities that touched the workers at CRS, but I know that Father Ketter and I both paused to consider our recent visit and the impact of violence on the lives of people a world away from Atlanta—people who had been such gracious and welcoming hosts to us not long ago.
The almost universal initial reaction to such violence is to flee and to hide. Sin always manifests itself in a desire to hide and to remain isolated. When Adam and Eve sinned against God’s law, they tried to hide themselves from God (Gn 3:8)—yet God sought them out and began the long process of our redemption.
Redemption is God’s process of gathering and bringing people together in Christ. Grace unites us and sin scatters us. When individuals use violence to frighten and panic others, they occasionally discover that those very actions only serve to unite us and give us renewed determination to gather together and confront those who seek to terrorize us. Was that not the lesson of 9-11 when that following weekend, houses of worship were filled to overflowing with people who chose to unite in prayer and to seek God’s mercy and grace?
As we approach the tenth anniversary of that tragic event in our nation’s history, let us pray that we will renew our unity as a people and gain new resolve to stand together to confront and disavow all acts of terrorism. May Americans of all religious traditions, races, cultures and political affiliations pause together and rededicate ourselves to a unity that is the only appropriate response to the division and fear that was the intent of those who sought to scatter and separate us from one another.