.- With the fifth anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching, the testimonies of Catholic clergy who ministered at Ground Zero and accompanied families of those who died in Flight 93 indicate just how the attacks and the aftermath changed their lives forever.
Their testimonies are recorded in a moving 30-page booklet, called “Catholic Priests and How they Responded … In their Own Words”. Though published by the U.S. bishops’ Office for Vocations and Priestly Formation in 2003, they seem timeless and offer to all readers a moment for reflection and prayer as the memorial date nears.
In the book, Msgr. John Delendick, a fire chaplain for the City of New York, recalls funeral and memorial services, up to 16 per day, for the New York Fire Department which suffered the loss of 343 men. He would escort families of deceased firefighters to the site.
"I would ask the family members to be quiet and to speak to their loved ones in their hearts and then take a few minutes to listen for their loved ones to speak back," Delendick said. "From here we would escort them to a makeshift memorial, where we prayed, and they left their flowers or teddy bears or pictures."
Another Brooklyn priest, Fr. Robert Romano, deputy chief chaplain of the New York City Police Department, learned quickly that many of the officers he knew had died, including a college seminary classmate, several of his altar boys and his godson.
Fr. Romano would say Mass on Sundays and holy days for workers at Ground Zero. "I give thanks to God for using me and for allowing me to fulfill three promises I made on 9/11: to celebrate Mass and the sacraments at the site until the recovery and clean up were finished and to bless and walk out of the 'pit' the bodies of every one of our police officers that were found.”
“Two of these promises I have kept. I pray that I will be able to keep the third, to remember the deceased and their families so long as I have breath in me," he said.
Bishop Blase Cupich, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Vocations and Priestly Formation, said the stories summarize the meaning of priesthood for him.
"The men showed the very human face of Christ to those in need," he said. "Through Mass and the sacraments they brought grace to an otherwise graceless moment. They selflessly entered into the pain of those in their care and it changed them and their priesthood forever."
The stories of the priests of 9/11 are available at http://www.usccb.org/vocations/wewerethere.shtml