Police Chaplain Serves The Families of 9/11

by Msgr. Robert Romano

Msgr. Romano
Msgr. Romano

A decade has gone by since that “day of infamy” of the new 21st century. While 10 years seems like an eternity to some people, I can remember with clarity the events of Sept. 11, 2001. 9/11 has changed my life and my priesthood. It has made me who I am today.
That morning began like any other morning. I remember it was a bright cool clear day. I was preparing for Mass when I heard on the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I celebrated Mass. Then I headed out to lower Manhattan along the Gowanus Expressway where I saw the smoke and dust of the already collapsed buildings.
After reporting in with the mayor and police commissioner, I went to the area hospitals where I learned that there were no injured. I went to “Ground Zero” where I saw the carnage for the first time. I was confronted with the sight of the dead and the knowledge that many of the police officers that I knew were missing and feared dead. It was a gut-wrenching feeling to know that one of those who was missing was a friend whose infant son I had baptized only 10 days earlier.

During the months after 9/11, I spent almost every day at the site. For the first several weeks, I celebrated Mass every day for the families who were awaiting word about their loved ones. After hopes of rescuing survivors vanished, the project moved toward recovery. Masses continued every Sunday and holyday for the Emergency Service cops who worked to bring closure for the families by returning their loved ones for burial. The number of cops and families that came to those weekly Masses increased every week. We started with about 15 on the first Sunday after Sept. 11 and ended in May when the last piece of metal was removed from Ground Zero. On that day the numbers were so great that the intersection at Murray and Greenwich Sts. was closed so that I could celebrate Mass. It was something I never thought would happen but I will treasure the memory for all my life.

The years have gone by but the memories are still a part of all who were involved in that one single day and its aftermath that changed the lives of so many and of our nation.

I, along with my fellow police chaplains, have continued to minister to the 23 families of the cops we lost that day and unfortunately to the more than 40 other families who have lost loved ones due to post- 9/11 illnesses. The sad thing is that the evil of that September day continues to take lives and destroy families.

As we contemplate this 10th anniversary, there really has been no closure for the thousands of families who lost loved ones and the millions of Americans whose safety was violated. While Osama Bin Laden has been killed, the threat of another attack is still there.
Those who say that we should put Sept. 11, 2001 to rest and behind us fail to realize that it is not only a part of history but its effects are still a part of our lives. Time does not heal the wounds. We just learn to live with them.

As a priest and police chaplain, my job is to minister to those who are hurting. In these past 10 years, I have felt the love of those who have accepted me as a part of their families and have ministered to me. God was there that day in the “heroes” who performed countless numbers of miracles by saving the lives of so many in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. We must never forget!

I, continually, thank God for using me as an instrument of His love. May God grant eternal rest to those who died because of 9/11. May God grant consolation to the families and friends of those taken from us and may God bless the United States of America.

Msgr. Romano is the Deputy Chief Chaplain of the New York City Police Department and the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, Dyker Heights.