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> 9/11 Remembered > Hope: Rising from the Destruction of Ground Zero, pg. 1
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Remembering  9/11

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Remembering the Ground Zero Ministry at St. Paul's Chapel

Reflections on the London Bombings
The London Bombings:
A Muslim Perspective

Why does God let bad things happen in the world?

Where do I look to find God in this world of tragedy and pain?

How are we to respond to acts of terrorism and the hatred expressed by self-proclaimed "enemies" of Christianity?

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If you will just try, in some small way, to open your heart to someone who needs companionship in suffering, you will discover it is an enormous gift. That it is truly, truly life-giving to make room in your heart and your life for that openness to that experience. I really feel that is the deepest gift I have received from this whole experience.
Introduction by Courtney V. Cowart, Th.D.
St. Paul's Chapel Relief Ministry
New York Ground Zero
May 7, 2002

A year ago, September 11, the world, it seemed, turned upside down. I was in the shadow of the North Tower when it collapsed. The weight of so much death, so much sorrow was more than the mind could absorb. But it was not too much for the soul.

Suddenly, all that mattered were people and kindness. Even in a place usually so preoccupied as New York City, the order of things was overturned— instantly—and has never been the same.

Before we saw the thousands flocking to the site to serve and help, before the semi-trucks began to roll in from small towns across America through the middle of the night laden with gifts of supplies, before the bushels of rainbow-colored cards and banners filled with the tiny handprints, misspellings, and creaky syntax of children saying thank you to the heroes poured in from everywhere, before these visible signs, and so many, many more like them, something else must have happened first. Something like that simple prayer: "Lord, send me" spoken in the hearts of thousands, if not millions.

It was just an instinct. It was automatic. Even in the moment of paralyzing fear, utter helplessness and complete insecurity, hearts were stirred with a selfless generosity that transcended all the rest.

At St. Paul's Episcopal Church, located literally across the street from the devastated World Trade Center, that generosity of spirit prevailed from almost the beginning. From September 12, 2001, to June 2, 2002, St. Paul's was home to a twenty-four-hour-a-day ministry aimed at the physically and emotionally depleted rescue, recovery, and relief workers at New York's Ground Zero. A community of 5,000 volunteers, most of whom had no previous attachment to St. Paul's, worked unceasingly to feed, comfort, clothe, massage, counsel, worship with, and provide a place of sanctuary and rest to the thousands of constructions workers, firemen, police men, sanitation workers, and chaplains who poured into Lower Manhattan. Work at the Pile and the Pit went on ceaselessly around the clock, and St. Paul's was always open, never closing its doors until the last remaining emergency workers left the site nine months later, in early June.

As you read in the following stories, those of us who lived through the unbuilding of the World Trade Center, while serving and living in the extraordinary community of St. Paul's Chapel, discovered things about faith and being human we didn't know before. These discoveries are expressed in various ways through the following conversations, recorded mainly at St. Paul's, the most recent ones collected for the forthcoming service of remembrance at the Washington National Cathedral at 8 p.m. on September 11.

It is my hope that these stories may be shared widely, because in listening to these voices we hear something we all need to hear: the liberating, transforming grace that infused us at our Ground Zeros in New York and Washington. We hear this through these voices in a plainspoken way that is simple, direct, and powerful. These are the voices of people who have known, first-hand, that faith and trust can actually lead to the formation of a community completely founded in altruism, humility and love, cutting across every conceivable human divide. These people know what such a community feels like, because that's what our experience at Ground Zero became for a time.

I believe this community still exists, and that it might even act as a kind of leaven in our churches, in our cities and in our world in the coming year. Some of us call its spirit "nine-twelve"—as shorthand to describe what began to happen the day after in people's hearts, and is still happening and still seeking avenues of expression.

The group whose voices follow now knows the incredible vulnerability of large scale suffering and death, of having one kind of security taken from us. It knows a kind of new life with a totally different sense of what security is. We've begun to shift, as you can tell, from placing our hope and faith and identity in things that do not last, to putting all that faith and hope in things that do - like genuine mutual love and self-sacrifice, altruism and service.

This has taken, and always takes, courage. It takes an unshakable faith in goodness, and then a passionate desire to enact that goodness, to proclaim, to protest, that love is stronger than death, that it cannot be conquered by acts of hatred. This takes a compassion that is larger than despair and anger.

Perhaps Colleen Kelly says it best. Colleen, the bereaved sister of Billy Kelly, who was struck down that day at the WTC, has become a world activist for restorative justice through the group she has co-founded, 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. She speaks for so many of us when she says that, as strange as it may sound, she is a more hopeful person since September 11, and believes this act has the potential to "lead to so much greater good...I still believe that good will overcome, that goodness will overcome, and that my worldview has not been shattered. There were too many good things that happened that day, and all the days afterward - the thousands and thousands and thousands of acts of kindness. If anything, I am more firm in my belief in God; more firm in my belief in family; more firm in my belief that there is an overwhelming goodness in the world, and that goodness will overcome."

With those words, I invite you to explore the lived faith that empowered the relentless acts of love and seeking of the lost in the recovery efforts at our Ground Zeros this year, and to hear how that faith transformed both individuals and communities.

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