Services to Mark Attack Anniversary
Houses of Worship Offer a Place to Connect
By Bill Broadway
The extraordinary events of Sept. 11 drove area residents to sanctuaries in huge numbers in the days after the terrorist attacks. Religious leaders expect a similar response to the one-year anniversary as people gather to honor the dead, ponder the whys and consider the strength of their convictions.
Hundreds of services are planned for Wednesday, many interfaith in nature – an extension of the unprecedented effort particularly by Christians and Jews after Sept. 11 to pray for unity and show support for practitioners of "nontraditional" American faiths, especially Islam.
But most services seem geared toward specific religions or denominations. Clergy and lay organizers say they sense a need for people to reestablish connections to their traditions over such questions as why God could allow such a thing to happen and whether to support a U.S.-led war on Iraq.
"We feel strongly that we need to help people understand what a Christian perspective is on the events of Sept. 11," said Susan Timoney, a theologian affiliated with Trinity College in Northeast Washington and one of the planners of Wednesday services at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Capitol Hill.
Specifically, Christianity teaches, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that "suffering has redemptive value," she said.
The midday Mass at St. Peter's, designed for Catholics who work on the Hill, will feature a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, chaplain of the House of Representatives, titled "Terrorism and Suffering: A Christian Response."
"When we don't know what to do, churches offer a ritual that is very comforting," Timoney said. "We can do what people through the centuries have done, have found meaning and strength in – listening to Scripture, singing, giving the sign of peace."
The Rev. Roy Howard, pastor of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville, said many in his congregation consider Sept. 11 a "wound that hasn't gone away." He said that "ongoing work needs to be done to make sense of what happened personally and, for thoughtful people, theologically."
One of the pressing moral and theological issues is how far the U.S. government should go in its war against terrorism – especially the current focus on Saddam Hussein, he said. Other questions involve the nature of God and how important God is to people's lives, said Howard, whose church will host three nearby congregations for a Wednesday evening memorial and prayer service.
That any Christians could ask, "Where was God on Sept. 11?," shows they don't have a sense of who God is or have pushed Him "so far to the margins" that God has no true presence in their lives, he said.
"Implicit in the question is that God isn't there," he said. "We live in a world fraught with tragedy. . . . God is with us in the messiness of it all . . . to sustain us as people of courage and compassion and hope."
Rabbi Jack L. Moline, of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, said the Sept. 11 anniversary observance is particularly meaningful for Jews because it falls in the middle of the High Holidays, a time of repentance beginning today with Rosh Hoshanah and concluding Sept. 16 with Yom Kippur.
Moline and several other rabbis organized a Tuesday night memorial service for the Washington area Jewish community at Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria so that Jews will feel free to participate in civic observances the next day.
The Leil Shimurim, or night of watching, at Beth El will include special music written for the occasion and statements by Jewish rescue workers, government officials and a military chaplain.
"We have a calendar of tragedy and are very used to observing it," Moline said of Jewish history. "It's familiar to us, and it's a comfort for us to gather for prayer."
For Muslims, communal prayer is "collective therapy," said Mohamad Magid, imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling. The mosque is one of several that will hold an open house Wednesday for any Muslim who wants to pray and for any visitors who want "a taste of Islam," he said.
That night, Magid will join leaders of six other religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Christianity and Baha'i – in a Day of Remembrance service at the Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax. Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church will participate in a morning interfaith service at Washington National Cathedral and evening interfaith service at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington.
It is important for Muslims to take part in such gatherings to pray with people of other faiths and show "there is strength in diversity, that a multi-religious, multiethnic society can be a stronger community," Magid said.
Kathy McGregor, parish nurse at National City Christian Church, said many people still have a sense of helplessness a year after the attacks. "A lot of us don't feel like there's much we can do" to make the world a safer and happier place, she said.
She discovered "a really neat idea" as she gave the children's sermon a month ago at National City around the 57th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. McGregor told the story of a 12-year-old girl Japanese girl who contracted leukemia, the "A-bomb disease," after the attack and whose spirits were lifted by making hundreds of paper cranes – a symbol of peace – before she died.
"I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world," the girl wrote in a haiku.
McGregor said she told the children – and the congregation – that learning to fold paper cranes, and giving them to someone as a sign of love, can be a response to the question, "How do I make a difference?"
It's a simple but concrete thing to do, she said.
©Copyright 2002, Washington Post