WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 1, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The stories of priests on the scene during the Sept. 11 attacks are highlighted in a new publication produced by the U.S. bishops.
“We Were There … Catholic Priests and How They Responded” is a compilation of personal accounts of ministry amid the damage at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation produced the work, available on the Web at www.usccb.org/vocations.
It highlights how the Word of God and the sacraments gave comfort and hope to the firefighters, police officers and co-workers and families of the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, says Father Edward Burns. The priest heads the vocation office and spearheaded the “We Were There” project.
An essay by Father Burns, who began to hear about priests’ service the day of the attack, accompanies the materials. He notes that the only act in Congress that day was prayer led by Father Gerard Creedon, of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, who delivered the opening prayer for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Priests highlighted in “We Were There” spoke of the realization of how much their presence as a priest could mean to someone. Father Emile Frische, who coordinates special ministries for the Archdiocese of New York, spoke of a firefighter at a morgue who sat wordlessly on an upside down bucket.
“He didn’t want to talk to me. So I found a bucket and turned it upside down and sat with him,” Father Frische said. “Not a word was said between us. After a good long time he got up, turned to me and said, ‘Thank you, Father,’ and left.”
Many of the priests are chaplains in government agencies, such as the military, police and fire departments, and the FBI. Others were visitors to town. Still others were priests in parishes near the World Trade Center.
Father Thomas Iwanowski, who was pastor of a parish in Jersey City, New Jersey, a few blocks from the Hudson River, recognized that his parish would be pressed into service and put up fliers in the neighborhood that his church was a place where people could come.
Among those who showed up for help were five men, soaking wet, who had run from the World Trade Center area, jumped into the Hudson, been picked up by a police boat and deposited on the Jersey side of the river. They wanted to call home.
Another group included 22 students from the High School of Economics and Finance, located next to the World Trade Center. They had been brought by ferryboat to New Jersey and didn’t know where they were. During the day the parish held prayer services, fed people, and found housing for 18 teen-agers and 21 adults, including an 87-year-old Jewish woman from Battery Park City who ended up staying in the parish convent.
Father LaVerne Schueller, a retired Air Force colonel, who now is an auxiliary chaplain in Florida, was at a chaplains conference in the Pentagon when the plane hit there. They evacuated the building and were advised to leave the area. They stayed, knowing there would be work to do. They helped move people, and held intravenous bags for the wounded in the triage area.
He described the fear he felt when the chaplains heard a false alarm that an unidentified aircraft was heading toward the Pentagon.
“I have dedicated my life to trying to serve God and His people,” Father Schueller said. “But I am a man of many faults. However, at that point I was comforted by remembering Jesus’ words ‘Greater love has no man than to lay
down his life for another.'”
Father David Baratelli, chaplain of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, celebrated Mass in a gym in the days after 9/11. One day a lieutenant asked him to bring Communion to early morning workers at ground zero who couldn’t get to Mass.
“And so the two of us walked down to the site with the ciborium containing the Eucharist,” Father Baratelli said. “As I stood in the midst of the rubble, one by one, workers came over, uncovered their heads and received the Eucharist. Christ was truly present and he brought consolation and hope to this place of terrible sorrow and death.”
Father Kevin Smith, chaplain of the Nassau County Fire Department, in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, was with the firefighters who brought Franciscan Father Mychal Judge’s body into St. Peter’s Church, a triage center. Firefighters laid it in the sanctuary and Father Smith went and found a stole for his friend and fellow fire chaplain.
“I placed the stole and Mychal’s badge on the covered litter on his chest,” he said. Soon the church had to be evacuated. Two Franciscans asked to take the body to their residence so it would not be lost if another building collapsed. A New York Fire Department medical officer pronounced Father Judge dead and assigned him death certificate No. 1 for the terrorist attacks.