So, let me get this straight, just so we’re all on the same page, here.
When two hijacked, terrorist-piloted passenger jets were deliberately flown into the Twin Towers, in an act of war against our nation, the first recorded casualty was a Roman Catholic priest and NYFD chaplain — Fr. Mychal Judge — who had ridden to the burning towers, and blessed doomed firefighters, hearing last confessions on the way.
And while Judge’s body was being carried away from the catastrophe by the firefighters who loved him, and whom he loved, First Responders from all ranks, all units, all departments were heading toward that disaster area, not running away, intent on saving as many human lives as possible, even as they weighed the terrible odds. They went up the stairs, while office workers went down. Some of them were kissed by a blind man’s guide-dog, as they passed.
Of the First Responders, 343 members of the FDNY lost their lives. The NYPD lost 23. The Port Authority Police lost 37. Of the 2998 killed at Ground Zero, 403 of them were First Responders, and one of them was a priest. That’s what, about 12% of the total?
In the days, weeks and months after 9/11, Rescue workers from all over the country showed up at Ground Zero to lend a hand, first at recovery, and then at debris removal. And, as Sr. Mary Ann Walsh details, here, lots of priests were there, too, from the first day, and for months afterward.
The city established a site for those looking for missing family members, a place with counselors and social workers. The line went on for blocks and priests walked alongside it and helped people accept the inevitable—a loss of someone only to be found again in heaven. A veteran psychiatrist told Cardinal Egan that he was amazed when he interviewed families and saw how deeply they had been touched by their sidewalk conversations with priests.
The church knows the importance of chaplains and designates priests to help emergency workers such as police, firefighters, and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. These public servants need one of their own in crises and at 9/11 their own priests responded.
9/11’s own, however, also turned out to be not just official chaplains but also priests in other ministries, like Msgr. Anthony Sherman, a Brooklyn pastor who counseled strangers and led funeral Masses for the dead from his parish—some whose bodies were never found—and Jesuit Father James Martin, an editor at America magazine, who worked with rescuers in the aftermath, and so many other unnamed and unrecognized priests who offered the sacraments, encouragement and human consolation.
And the clergy were not represented only by Catholic priests; there were Rabbis and Protestant ministers; Orthodox priests and Muslim clergy. And nuns, too, and everyday people of great faith, or no faith at all, who understood that something greater than opinions or ideology or theology or social theory or doubt was before them.
But now — understanding all of that — we read that New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not inviting First Responders to observe the tenth anniversary of this day of death and sacrifice, at Ground Zero.
And we read, also that Mayor Bloomberg’s guest list is empty of any clergy, as well.
There will be no prayers at his little shindig. Heaven, forbid.
Apparently, there’s just not enough room for all the First Responders who want to be there, because there are so many important people who must be there! They cannot be denied their photo-op, and their speechifying, and their postures and poses, even though most of them were not even in office on that dreadful day.
No, Michael Bloomberg’s Super Colossal, Low-Salt 9/11 Memorial and Networking Event is a big-ticket item for the the ones who can be tapped, later, for their money or their influence — the most important sorts of people.
First Responders and Clergyfolk are not very important to the powerful and the enlightened. They only protect us, rescue us, resuscitate us, console us, pray with us, bless us and bury us. And when they die doing it, well, one does feel terrible about it for a whole news cycle or two. And then one takes a private jet somewhere, and tries to forget…
I don’t know why I should be surprised. Priests and First Responders are, like our troops, front-line folk. They’re like heroes in the cowboy flicks; they ride in, shoulder the burden, help put things to rights, and then — while the elite get on with assuming their power and asserting their primacy –they recede into the background. Only the very few stick around to say ‘thank you’ and wave them off. Sometimes children ask them to come back, or to stay.
Bloomberg’s priorities are all wrong. He’s thinking like a Baron — or no, he’s not really thinking at all; he’s being pragmatic: mustn’t let the help get get too much recognition, get too full of themselves — they might start getting uppity and making demands on milords purse and time. Mustn’t let the damn clergy murmur their vulgar prayers, or next we’ll have tent-revivalists cluttering up the fairgrounds and making such spectacles of themselves.
The big crowds for New Years Eve, or for the big parades, are alright, he thinks, but this is not for the riff-raff. Let’s just keep the invite list confined to those who know how to dress and how to behave, and which fork to use, and when.
You know…all those consequential (and so very, very smart) people who — ten years into this — have not managed to fill the still-exposed, gaping holes in the downtown ground.
Perhaps that’s because of the increasingly exposed, gaping holes in their own heads and hearts — from which pours out so much that is mediocre, bleak and unhelpful.
Giuliani, for all his faults, wouldn’t be doing this.
And if an 84 year-old pope can manage to function in crowds of a couple-million, it seems to me the mayor of what used to be the greatest city in the world should be able to figure out how to bring in some First Responders, and give a few minutes over to prayer.
But then, the Bishop of Rome is anything but mediocre, bleak or unhelpful. And I understand there is a salt shaker on his table, for those who like it.
UPDATE: Max Lindenman, while waxing eloquently in favor of clergy and responders in attendance, offers a possible excuse for Bloomberg’s decision:
“. . .nothing would demonstrate the strength that comes from American diversity — the whole E Pluribus Unum thing — better than a row of priests and scholars representing different faiths and denominations, praying in unison. New York has plenty of talent in that department. Since I haven’t lived there in many years, Archbishop Dolan’s name is the first that comes to mind, but I have a hunch a fairly competent rabbi can be laid hold of without anyone’s having to roam too far afield. Throw in an orthodox metropolitan or archimandrite, or whatever they call those guys, a Sikh guru, a brahman, a lama, and we’d have our own little Assisi summit.
But here’s the problem: we’d have to invite an imam, too.
As I wrote at his site, I don’t really agree. I think the vast majority of New Yorkers, and of Americans would be fine with seeing a Muslim clergyman at the memorial, along with representatives from all religions. After all, there were Muslims killed at GZ, also. I suspect this has much less to do with worries over an Imam, and Bloomberg simply being so insulated in his own secularist sphere that he really doesn’t see the value to or the point of, prayers. And too, I suspect the man — like so many currently in positions of power and consequence — is simply clueless.