Grieving, peacemaking linked - Catholic Courier
The National 9/11 Flag was carried onto Rochester's Frontier Field by local police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel Aug. 20. The once-tattered flag was recovered at Ground Zero and has since been stitched back together and visited all 50 states. The National 9/11 Flag was carried onto Rochester's Frontier Field by local police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel Aug. 20. The once-tattered flag was recovered at Ground Zero and has since been stitched back together and visited all 50 states.

Grieving, peacemaking linked

Father Jim Fennessy was a seminarian at Theological College in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001. He had just left his Tuesday morning class when he heard that planes had flown into the World Trade Center towers, and he spent the rest of the morning watching the day’s tragic events unfold on live television.

"It was a day that I won’t forget," said Father Fennessy, pastor of the cluster of St. Patrick and St. Mary parishes in Seneca Falls and Waterloo. "I can remember being glued to the TV. At that time, rumor was that there was another (hijacked) plane heading to Washington, D.C., so it was very tense."

Father Fennessy and his classmates pulled themselves away from the TV as soon as they heard there would be a special noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The basilica is just across the street from Theological College, which is located on the campus of Catholic University of America. Father Fennessy doesn’t remember what was said during the homily that day, but he remembers feeling better as he left the basilica, even though he could see smoke rising from the burning Pentagon just a few miles away.

"There was the reality of the terror and destruction, but more importantly the reality of the presence of Christ in the midst of it all," he said.

The basilica was packed that afternoon, and every church Father Fennessy visited in the next few months was equally crowded. This phenomenon may be due to the fact that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks reminded people there are many aspects of life they cannot control, he said.

"God is in control, and that’s where safety is, with the Lord. I think there were people who hadn’t been to church in years, and they were afraid," he said. "I think they were seeking peace, safety that only the Lord can bring."

Ten years later, people are still seeking peace and safety, he added. They may not think of the Sept. 11 attacks every day, but people long for peace and safety just as much as they did that day. Almost everyone has a friend, family member or acquaintance who has served overseas in the military during the last decade and witnessed the violence that occurs when peace is lacking, he said.

For that reason, as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 draws near Catholics should not only remember and pray for those lost on that fateful day, but also for peace moving forward, Father Fennessy said.

"At each Mass we’re probably going to have a moment of silence for those who did die at that time, but it will be followed by a prayer for peace. I think praying for peace probably needs to be something we do more of," he said, noting that parishioners in Seneca Falls and Waterloo also will be praying a rosary for peace at 3 p.m. Sept. 11.

Moving toward peace

"It’s important that we take this time to remember, mourn the dead and mourn the sort of hate that caused this dreadful attack 10 years ago," observed Laurie Konwinski, Tompkins County justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga.

Like Father Fennessy, Konwinski said people shouldn’t stop at mourning the dead of 9/11 and must instead move forward into working toward peace. Catholics in particular are called to do this work, she said, and American Catholics must walk the sometimes fine line between being patriotic and being faithful followers of Christ, she noted. American Catholics might feel they need to support war in order to be patriotic, but that may not be what their faith calls them to do, she said.

"The challenge is that we still … stand up and say our first loyalty has got to be to Christ and his reign and his way of peace. We’re called to look to the Bible. What does it mean to live the Gospel in this time? Sometimes that absolutely means that you run against the prevailing attitude," Konwinski said.

Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga has worked with Ithaca’s faith communities and colleges to plan an 11-day schedule of events centered on the dual themes of remembering Sept. 11, 2001, and peacemaking. The events will begin Sept. 10 and conclude Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace. One of the program’s highlights will be a Mass for Peace, which will be celebrated Sept. 16 in the Emerson Suites in the Ithaca College Campus Center. Jesuit Father G. Simon Harak, director of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, will preach and preside at the Mass. He also will give a presentation about "Clarification of Thought — The Six Wars" Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at Ithaca’s First Baptist Church.

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, editor-in-chief of America magazine, will speak on "War and Peace: Fresh Thinking for New Times" Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Roy J. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. And Bishop Matthew H. Clark will be in town Sept. 18, when he will preach and preside at the 1 and 9 p.m. Masses in the Muller Chapel at Ithaca College.

The 11-day program includes a number of other events, such as several interfaith gatherings, and organizers hope they will encourage participants to think not only about the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, but also of all the victims of violence in the past decade, Konwinski said. Organizers also hope the program will challenge participants to focus on forgiveness rather than revenge, and to think about what steps they can take to work toward peace.

In that vein, Jesuit Father Carsten Martensen, Catholic chaplain at Ithaca College, will lead a discussion about "Peacemaking and Peacekeeping in Hearts, Homes, Communities and the World" Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Holy Cross Church in Freeville. Father Martensen, one of the Ithaca program’s organizers, knows firsthand how hard it can be to forgive when you’re full of hurt and anger. He was pastor of a Jesuit parish on Long Island on Sept. 11, 2001, and presided over the funerals for three parishioners who were killed that day. The terrorist attacks also claimed the life of a young man who had been one of his former students at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx. This man worked on the upper floors of one of the Twin Towers and perished trying to help others escape the smoky chaos in the tower, Father Martensen said, his voice choking with emotion.

"It’s tough for any of us, as you can tell when I talk about (him)," he said. "We can feel very angry and bitter if we want, but that’s not going to solve anything. We seemed to react and want revenge without trying to look at why people would want to do such a thing."

Father Martensen is encouraging people to look beyond the surface and consider what might have prompted the terrorists’ attacks that day, and how individuals can begin to work for peace in their own lives and in the world.

Catholics are called to work toward peace by following Jesus’ example and caring for each other, especially the poorest of the poor, noted Deni Mack, pastoral associate at Fairport’s Church of the Assumption. It’s easier for people to learn, find shelter and be healthy when their basic needs are met, and there is less likelihood of volatility when people earn a living wage, she added.

Consequently, Church of the Assumption will host an evening of reflection about peace at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14, and its liturgies the weekend of Sept. 10-11 will carry the message of peace, forgiveness and gratitude for faith and blessings, Mack said. The parish also is offering an eight-week program called :Engaging Our Conflicts: An Exploration of Nonviolent Peacemaking." Through this program, participants will experience, practice and live the principles of nonviolence, and apply peacemaking to issues about which they’re interested. They will practice creating peace using nonviolence as tool, tactic, discipline and prayer, Mack said.

"Evil does exist, but Jesus’ love counters evil, as we have learned (from) the great heroes of 9/11, those who sacrificed their lives in saving the lives of people they did not even know. Pockets of heroism exist in our faith communities and in families tested by tragedy," she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on Engaging Our Conflicts, call 585-388-0040. For a listing of Ithaca’s peace-related events, visit the Regional Life section at

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