Special issue for 9/11

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, September 6, 2017

From left, Imam Kholwadia, Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, Episcopal Bishop William D. Pursell, Cardinal Francis George and other religious leaders pray during a Sept. 13, 2001, interfaith service at Holy Name Cathedral. David Kamba/Chicago Catholic

When four commercial airliners were used as the instruments of terror on Sept. 11, 2001, the Catholic New World was just getting ready to go to the printer with its Sept. 16-29 issue.

That issue carried only the sparsest news from the attacks: Items in the page 4 Update column included comments from some of the roughly 500 people who attended the 12:10 p.m. Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, and a roundup of statements from Pope John Paul II and bishops around the world.

The story from the cathedral included a quote from that day’s Gospel: “This is my commandment: That you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).

Cathedral pastor Father Robert McLaughlin, who celebrated the Mass, said the words came as a challenge in the wake of the attacks.

“Those words are hard to hear, but they’re words that speak to us today because we need to be people who stand for peace,” McLaughin said in his homily that day. “Whatever else we do, we need to stand for peace.” 

During the prayers of the faithful, the congregation prayed for the victims and their families, but also for the perpetrators of the attacks.

The following week, the Catholic New Word broke from its every-two-week schedule with a special eight-page edition filled with reaction to the events of Sept. 11 and the following days.

Cardinal Francis George wrote a column for that issue headlined, “It’s hard to discover that you’re hated.”

The column began, “The destruction of symbols of America’s financial prowess and her military might on Sept. 11, along with rumors of attacks on the nation’s capitol, has brought home the animosity and resentment towards the United States felt by those behind the attacks and those who agree with them. We are used to seeing our country as a beacon of freedom rather than a source of oppression. The attacks not only destroyed human life but destroyed as well our sense of security in our image as popular leader of all those who desire to be free.”

While the attacks left Americans reeling, Cardinal George called on Catholics to find comfort in faith, and in confidence in God’s ability to bring good out of evil. Some of that was on display in the self-sacrifice of firefighters and others that day.

He concluded the column like this: “We cannot allow these events to be captured only by political and economic and military analyses. May self-sacrifice become a call to each of us, no matter our way of life. My prayer, and yours as well, beyond our prayers for the victims and their families, is that this experience of solidarity and these examples of self-sacrifice will, along with God’s mercy and grace, shape us in the weeks and months to come. God bless you.”

Other stories recounted efforts to respond to the attacks, including dozens of Catholic schools having their students write letters of support to their counterparts in New York.

The paper featured a Sept. 13 interfaith prayer service at Holy Name Cathedral that included a Jewish prayer of mourning in Hebrew and reading from the Quran in Arabic

Another article looked at the ways Catholics were trying to support the Muslim community, which suffered several attacks in the wake of 9/11. Muslim schools were closed for a time to safeguard their students.

“I want the Catholics of Chicago to know that their Muslim neighbors are afraid,” Father Thomas Baima said then. “They are afraid they will be targets of misplaced revenge.”

Baima is now vice rector for academic affairs at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, dean of Mundelein Seminary and vicar for interreligious and ecumenical affairs for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Subsequent issues of the paper included further reaction, such as special Masses and prayer services; fundraisers organized by schoolchildren; and the work of Chicago-area residents who made the trek to New York, usually on their own time and at their own expense, to help with search and recovery efforts.

In the weeks and months that followed, several Chicago priests traveled to New York, relieving other clergy in offering support to the people still sifting through the rubble.

One of the first was Father John Barkemeyer, who traveled with a team of Chicago firefighters and a social worker. Barkemeyer later joined the U.S. Army as an active service chaplain.

“It affects people in all sorts of different ways,” Barkemeyer said then. “There was one firefighter who lost his brother, but he found his brother’s helmet so he had something to give his sister-in-law. He was very emotional.”

Father Jason Malave spent two days in October 2001 blessing remains brought to the morgue at ground zero, and Father Dan Brandt, now the Chicago Police Department chaplain, and Father Paul Kalchik, took on similar duties about two weeks later.


  • 125th anniversary
  • 9-11

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