Attendees call for peace during Sept. 11 remembrance - Catholic Courier
Fran McCarthy of Ontario holds an American flag as she prays during a community interfaith observance of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Sept. 11 at the George Eastman House in Rochester. Fran McCarthy of Ontario holds an American flag as she prays during a community interfaith observance of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks Sept. 11 at the George Eastman House in Rochester.

Attendees call for peace during Sept. 11 remembrance

Using different languages, songs and stories, but with a common message, members of the area’s faith communities came together Sunday at the George Eastman House to remember the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and pray for peace.

Participants in "Remembering 9/11 and Moving Forward Together: The Joining of Many Faiths, Many Perspectives" were invited to talk and reflect on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, with people of different faiths and discuss how to work together in the future.

The event was organized and supported by many interfaith and ecumenical groups, including the Diocese of Rochester.

"May we be instruments of your peace, justice and love in the world, so as one family we may be united with each other in you," Bishop Matthew H. Clark prayed during the event.

Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, director for the Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College and imam with the Islamic Center of Rochester, prayed that the legacy of the victims of Sept. 11 be that a new generation should never suffer such a loss.

In addition to prayers for peace, the event featured patriotism, including the singing of "America the Beautiful" and "My Country, ‘Tis of Thee" by youths from St. Paul Church in Webster and Mary’s Place, which is a Cathedral Community outreach to the area’s refugees; they were accompanied on guitar by Samuel Asher, cantor at Temple Beth David.

Unity among people of faith even as they mourn was a central theme of many speakers.

The Rev. Winterbourne Jones of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church told of how Backus Middle School in northwest Washington, D.C., where he taught, had on Sept. 10, 2001, just celebrated the accomplishments of 11-year-old Asia Cottom and her teacher, Sarah Clark. According to a Washington Post biography, the pair on Sept. 11, 2001, were on American Airlines Flight 77 bound for a four-day trip to California for a National Geographic Society ecology conference, when their airplane was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon.

"The dark cloud of that horrible morning still hovers low," the Rev. Jones said.

The only memento the Rev. Jones has of the pair is a plush stuffed animal that middle-school students from Texas sent after hearing about the crash. It sat on the podium as he told their story.

"Today I choose community," he said. "I choose hope, and I choose love. God bless you."

Rabbi Sarah Freidson-King, of Temple Beth El, recalled being two weeks into her sophomore year at Brandeis and having a philosophy class interrupted by the news of a plane crash.

"When I left class an hour and a half later, my world was forever changed," said Rabbi Freidson-King, who noted she began to realize her own obligation to work for peace.

Meghan Robinson, youth minister at Our Lady Queen of Peace and St. Thomas More parishes in Brighton and diocesan liaison for ecumenical/interfaith relations, recalled being two weeks into her freshman year at college when her music theory class was interrupted twice with the news of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers.

Robinson felt relieved to speak with her sister, a nurse in a Manhattan hospital, who was waiting, fruitlessly, to receive the wounded for treatment. Yet she said she believes she could have done more to reach out to others, especially Muslims, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

"As a Catholic Christian, I have come to know Jesus who embraced all and loved everyone in a way we cannot begin to comprehend," Robinson said. "I’ve befriended the Jesus of Good Friday."

Fatima Bawaney, an interfaith youth leader with the Islamic Center of Rochester, spoke about her experience as a third-grader during the Sept. 11 attacks. Her class watched television and saw the Twin Towers crumble to the ground, surrounded by dark gray clouds of smoke. The next day, she was confronted by a classmate.

"’Fatima, if I ever saw one of your people, I would shoot them right in the middle of their turbans,’" Bawaney recalled the student saying.

"Who were these people who had taken my religion and turned it into something evil and monstrous?" she added.

In response to attacks on Islam as she grew, Bawaney said she began to get actively involved in interfaith dialogue and began to reprimand people who suggested that the religion of Islam supports violence. She also began to wear a hijab, or Muslim head covering, to strengthen her personal connection with God and to be an outward sign of her faith.

"Today, interfaith understanding presents a beacon of hope for all generations of Americans, and just as we have in the past, we shall overcome," Bawaney said.

Participants suggested that Sunday’s event should not be the end of reflection about the attacks. Kit Miller of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence suggested that people focus on the underlying issues, rather than personalities, as a way to move forward. In a statement, the Religious Society of Friends called for a rejection of violence; the statement was read by the Rev. Gordon V. Webster, chairman of the Interfaith Forum of Greater Rochester.

Kate Bennett, president of the Rochester Museum & Science Center, invited all attendees to reflect and respond to "Sept. 11, 2001: A Global Moment" at the Rochester museum, an exhibit that will be on display through Nov. 27. It features personally and historically significant items from that day, including plane and building fragments, an American flag from one of the World Trade Center towers, and opportunities for community members to reflect on the attacks.

"I know now 10 years later that all who died are my brothers and sisters in a way that I did not know it 10 years ago," Bennett said.

The event was a demonstration of how far the interfaith community has come in its dialogue after Sept 11, Nora Bradbury-Haehl, youth minister with St. Paul Parish in Webster, said afterwards.

"There are people I know now and am friends with that I never would have known," Bradbury-Haehl said.

Kathy LaBue, executive director of Mary’s Place and a parishioner of the Cathedral Community, echoed that thought, saying that she doesn’t believe the faith communities could have come together in the same way if Sept. 11 hadn’t happened. That unity has spilled over into the area’s ministries, she said, noting that a third of the refugees served at Mary’s Place are Muslim, but religion there is not a source of division.

"At Mary’s Place, they are one group," she said. "It really doesn’t matter at all what their faith belief is."

In contrast to other solemn Sept. 11, 2001, remembrances in the area, the event at George Eastman House captured the hopeful nature of the faith community, noted Anne-Marie Brogan, pastoral administrator of St. Mary Parish in Rochester and a chaplain with the Rochester Fire Department.

"There are so many possibilities for our future that aren’t about violence and retribution," Brogan said.

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