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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Features
Tuesday

Light in the darkness: Remembering Sept. 11

On a crisp, brilliantly sunny fall morning 10 years ago, the world changed in an instant. Airplanes crashed, buildings crumpled, and black smoke rose into the clear blue sky, blocking out the light. The shock and fear of the events of September 11, 2001 were especially strong in New York City that day and in the days that followed.
 
Like everyone else, Redemptorists living and working in New York that day were going about their regular daily routines — ministering to the sick, spending time with the lonely, preparing for parish meetings. And like everyone else that day, they found themselves struggling to understand what had happened, how it happened, and why.
 
To mark the 10th anniversary, several Redemptorists have shared their memories and stories. In the midst of such tragedy and conflict, they managed to find some light through the smoke and ash and darkness.
 
Our prayers remain with the victims, their families, the first-responders, and for all of us. We pray for peace, for healing, for forgiveness, and to know God’s merciful love for each person.
 
(Click on a link to jump to a particular story.)
 

 
I’m glad we all know where home is (Fr. Frank Skelly)
Where you goin’? (Fr. Arthur Wendel)
Hats off! (Fr. Patrick Woods)
I saw firsthand the result of evil (Fr. Lenny Delgado)
 
 

 
Fr. Frank Skelly: I’m glad we all know where home is
 
The morning of September 11 was supposed to mark the beginning of a new year at St. Cecilia’s Parish in East Harlem. That day the parish staff was supposed to meet for the first time since the start of summer, and the agenda was a foot long. The meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m.
 
News began to trickle out that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers. Then an elderly Redemptorist who was sitting in front of the television announced to Father Frank Skelly, the pastor, that the Towers had come down.
 
“No, no, no. A plane went into it, they didn’t come down,” Father Skelly told him. Then reality set in.
 
“We opened the church and the church was filled. We had this parishioner — his girlfriend came to church, but he didn’t. He was one of the ones who came that day. He was a waiter at Windows on the World (a restaurant at the top of the North Tower). He had just lost his job the day before, been transferred to a nearby hotel. He was upset and he had cursed out his boss. That was the last he saw of anybody he worked with. So we were dealing with major, major survivor guilt.
 
“We only lost two parishioners. One was a Port Authority police officer, and the other was an undocumented Mexican who worked as a waiter. My people didn’t work in those towers; they may have been the janitors, but even that was a good job.
 
“The following Sunday at the first Mass at 9:45 a.m., I said to the sacristan, ‘Open the balcony.’ She said, ‘We only open the balcony at Christmas and Easter.’ I said, ‘I know, but those aren’t our people. I don’t recognize anybody out there.’
 
The readings that Sunday were about the prodigal son. And here in the pews were all these people I hadn’t seen in years. So I got up to give the homily and all I could say was ‘I’m glad we all know where home is.’ So many people came back, and of course, in a few weeks they were all gone again, but this is where they came. This is where they knew they’d be received.”
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Fr. Arthur Wendel: Where you goin’?
 
On the Lower East Side, Father Arthur Wendel was working as a chaplain at Rivington House, a skilled nursing facility for AIDS patients. When the World Trade Center was attacked, Father Wendel was in the recreation hall with the residents, many of whom had full-blown AIDS. Rivington House was located a little more than one mile from the Twin Towers and the walls of the recreation room were almost entirely windows.
 
“The residents had difficulties to begin with, and they witnessed both crashes. We had a lot of pastoral work to do there that day,” Father Wendel said. In the weeks afterward, Father Wendel and another Redemptorist, Father Ronald Bonneau, volunteered to work as counselors and chaplains with the Red Cross, which had set up space on the piers along the Hudson River to serve families of the victims. Each day, a boat would take family members down the river to Ground Zero.
 
“We did a lot of counseling with them. I remember a lot of the pain the families went through. At the end of every day, we’d meet with the other chaplains and share our stories. We did that work until November.
 
“I remember one night we were leaving and it was around midnight. We were looking for a cross-town bus because we were living on Third Street at the time. About three buses passed by that weren’t in service. One of the last buses to pass us must have realized who we were. Imagine this: a New York City bus driver stopped the bus, put it in reverse, stopped in front of us and opened the door. ‘Where you goin’?’ he asked. ‘Well,’ we said, ‘we’re looking for a cross-town bus and then we’ll catch another bus downtown.’ ‘No,’ the driver said, ‘where you goin’?’ We told him we were living over on Third Street. He drove us right to the rectory of Most Holy Redeemer. That’s never happened again." 
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Fr. Patrick Woods: Hats off!
 
Father Patrick Woods answered a call from the Archdiocese of New York for chaplains to staff the make-shift morgues that were set up around Ground Zero. Priests were needed to bless the remains as they were recovered from the wreckage of the Towers.
 
“Like so many other people I wanted to do something that might help others cope with the suffering of this great tragedy. So I found myself going to a large hotel in New York to be briefed by the firefighters about what to expect. We were instructed on how to use a gas mask. Then we were driven to downtown Manhattan to be present to the recovery workers who were faced with such an overwhelmingly sad task.
 
“I was taken to a temporary morgue and my day began. Through the day, the covered remains of victims were brought to this room. I was so impressed with the deep reverence that the rescue workers had as they brought the dead to the morgue. Even though some had been doing this work for days and weeks, they always showed great respect.
 
“One of the firefighters would say, ‘Hats off!’ And then he would turn to me and say, ‘Father.’ Then I would lead the group in a prayer over the remains. I did this more than a hundred times during an eight-hour shift. I have often thought about those prayers. What was the purpose of them? I surely was praying for eternal life for those for whom some part of their remains had been found. They could never have imagined as they awoke that day that it would be their last on earth. I was conscious of the families of the victims.
 
“However, I think the prayer was very much for the rescue workers. It was my hope that the prayer would bring them comfort and strength in their grim task. I sought to remind them they were doing something very sacred: comforting the sorrowing and burying the dead, both corporal works of mercy. I suppose the prayer was also to give me comfort in ministry at a place that had faced hate with a great response of love.” 
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Fr. Lenny Delgado: I saw firsthand the result of evil
 
Like Father Wendel, elsewhere on the Lower East Side, Father Lenny Delgado was on his way to spend a few hours visiting with the residents of Casa Promesa Nursing Home. The first sign that anything was wrong was the number of people glued to the television when he stopped at a local store for a cup of coffee. By the time he reached the nurse’s station at Casa Promesa, it was clear to Father Lenny that his day would not be ordinary.
 
“My work took on a different direction. I was now the chaplain for the staff as well as the residents. It was very difficult to provide pastoral care while being in a state of shock and confusion.
 
“As the day unfolded we all worked with one eye on the TV, and it became very clear what had happened. Everyone in the nursing home was in shock. The island was in shut-down mode. No one could leave or enter Manhattan until further notice. I had planned to stay at our house in the Bronx that night, but that ended up not being necessary. What I experienced on the subway ride home was surreal. I had never, nor have I ever since, experienced the eerie feeling on the subway. Total Silence. This was rush hour. I’m not exaggerating when I say Total Silence. You could hear a pin drop and the quiet sniffle of some passengers. Heartbreaking."
 
Like Father Woods, Father Lenny volunteered for an eight-hour shift at one of the makeshift morgues near Ground Zero.
 
“Those eight hours seemed like days, weeks. On that shift I was the only Catholic priest. I would say a prayer over the remains and bless them with holy water. It was a very holy, holy place. Sad, though. I still remember seeing the hand of a woman with a set of car keys, as if she were going to get her car. A hand sharply cut as if it were put through a slicing machine. I always remember her and always say a prayer for her.
 
“I saw firsthand the result of evil: death and destruction. Yet a sense of holiness and calm reigned in the morgue. God was present in the midst of chaos. I know it. I felt it.
 
“I have never visited Ground Zero since. The impact on my life has been profound. I believe in the power of love and forgiveness. That is the only way evil never has the upper hand. I choose to prayerfully remember the day in a quiet chapel somewhere, usually in our house. That way, in prayer and love, I remember and pray for peace, love, healing and forgiveness.”
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