On the morning of September 11, we were having our normal morning staff briefing at the Priests for Life headquarters in New York City. The front of our office faces lower Manhattan, just across the water which the famous Staten Island Ferry crosses many times a day.
Suddenly we could see a huge column of smoke rising into the sky, and quickly becoming larger and darker. That morning, of course, suddenly turned into a night of shock and disbelief as we saw, along with the rest of the country, the worst attack ever made on the United States.
After following the initial news reports, seeing the collapse of the Towers, and doing the best we could to verify that friends and relatives were safe, we took refuge in the Eucharist. The chapel at our headquarters likewise faces Manhattan. We did what Catholics know best to do in the face of death: eat of the Bread of Life. During that Mass, I could see in one glance the Body of Christ, and the smoke over Manhattan. "This is My Body, given up for you…Do this in Memory of Me…This is My Blood, shed for you…for the forgiveness of sins."
There are no words to describe the kind of evil manifested by the deeds done against our nation on September 11, and deliberately planned long before that. Nor does the human psyche easily absorb the fact that the events of that day were not a horror movie, but a horrible reality.
The attack was against human life, and that is the greatest loss we incurred. The attack was also on key symbols of our city and our country, and that is likewise offensive. Symbols have meaning; we live by them and they help us keep our bearings.
One of those key symbols, of course, is our flag, which now we see everywhere. Its presence on our homes, our cars, and our clothing will continue to draw us together, as citizens of a nation based on the self-evident truth that life is sacred.
A few things, in the midst of this disaster, are certain. First, we need God. Events like this remind us we are vulnerable, and need to call on God's protection and providence. Besides being citizens of this great country, we are citizens of heaven.
Second, we need one another. The task of eliminating terrorism once and for all is a task not only for our military forces, but for every one of us. The more we build families and communities of concrete love, the more we crowd out terrorism. One of the fascinating phenomena here in New York these days is how strangers are spontaneously talking to one another, expressing concern for any relatives and friends who may be hurt or missing. These tragedies remind us that there really are no strangers.
Third, victory is ours. This we know from our Faith. The power of death has already been conquered in Jesus Christ. Evil will not have the final word. We will not live in fear. God will bless America, and the world, which still belongs to Him.
President's Address to Congress, September 20, 2001
Pope Sends Condolences on American Tragedy
Bishops' Statement on American Tragedy