Saturday, September 22, 2001
More New Yorkers turning to God in wake of attack
Special to the Democrat
NEW YORK - While the terrorist attacks in the United States last week have left a gap in the New York skyline and a hole in the Washington landscape, a spiritual vacuum has also permeated the country.
From "Ground Zero" in New York to Main Street USA, many people seeking solace are turning to a higher being for comfort and answers, packing churches and temples for special prayer meetings and vigils.
All of these efforts, plus teachers and students praying both inside and outside public schools, are in stark contrast to a notoriously spiritually void city.
Congregations of diverse faiths are trying to provide some sort of peace for people's minds.
Michael Jung, a Salvation Army volunteer who has been at Ground Zero since the Sept. 11 attacks, has been counseling rescue workers. He said people are searching for answers and for God.
"I have seen more people want to know who this God is than blaming him (for the tragedy)," he said.
At Upper Room in Long Island, the 2,000-seat church was filled to capacity Sunday. About 200 came forward to state the names of loved ones when asked if anyone knew a person who was missing or confirmed dead after the terrorist attacks. Congregants hugged and prayed for them.
"(The terrorists) succeeded in bringing America to its knees, but they had no idea that when we would fall to our knees we would fall to intercede," said the Rev. Tony D'Onofrio. "The voice of the blood of innocent Americans that cry from Ground Zero will not go unnoticed."
"On that fateful Tuesday, concentrated evil turned a monument into a morgue," he said. "Our God is like a pleading father this morning. He is crying to America, 'I love you, I long to heal you, I long to take you into my bosom and restore the healing of the moment.'"
Spanish churches in the city are focusing on the grief of Latino communities.
"We are seeing more and more Latinos were employed at the World Trade Center," said the Rev. Jose Lantigue of Riverside Church in Manhattan. Lantigue is planning an ecumenical service in Washington Heights this week with churches of various denominations.
"Now we have to start counseling and ministering to the community - those who were hurt individually and the community at large - because it was widespread trauma," he said.
At Union Square where thousands have assembled nightly for vigils and to listen to a variety of beliefs being propagated, enclaves of faith groups have been sharing. Scientologists, Buddhists, Bahai's, Christians, world peace groups, patriots and others not as easily categorized distribute literature, pray with people or just preach to anyone who will listen.
Gustavo Pineiro, a 29-year-old Bronx resident, compared Union Square to a spiritual smorgasbord, but understood the need for people to seek answers.
"People need to gain some sort of sanctity," he said.
Manhattan resident Amir Ahituv, 27, said the informal, but large gatherings in Union Square have provided people with the opportunity to share their grief.
"Two weeks ago, no one stopped here and talked," he said. "Now there's a really strong energy here."
Religious leaders across the nation have debated whether these attacks were borne out of judgment, have any spiritual implications or fulfill biblical or other prophecies.
Israel Martinez, youth pastor at Heavenly Vision in the Bronx, did not call the attacks judgment on the city and country, but said they are a call to come back to God.
"Sometimes a nation has to be shaken for it to wake up," he said. "Israel was in captivity for 70 years because it didn't listen to God's voice."
Rick Joyner, pastor of Morningstar Fellowship in Charlotte, N.C., responded to the attacks on his Web site:
"Some Christian leaders have inferred that the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon to have been judgment from God. I do not believe that this is true because these attacks have all of the hallmarks of Satan, and none that reflect the nature of God," Joyner wrote. "We need to get this straight if we are going to know how to respond to these times, because this does present the coming of some of our greatest challenges in history, as well as our greatest opportunities."
Jung, working a midnight shift at Ground Zero, said the rescuers there ask for people to pray and talk with and, "Some just ask for a hug."
"You look at some of the faces - they're so blank and pale," he said. "You don't even know there's life in them."
Nicole Schiavi was the Portsmouth City Hall and Hampton beat reporter for Foster's Daily Democrat from September 1994 to December 1996. She was born and raised in New York City. Schiavi is currently a Web developer for a company in New York City.
©Copyright 2001, The Democrat (NH)