Ten Years Later, We’re Still Praying

by Marie Elena Giossi, Antonina Zielinska and Ed Wilkinson

Gilma Yuen and Winnie Burke, parishioners at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish, Astoria, presented the Offertory gifts at the diocesan Mass of Remembrance for the families of 9/11 victims and survivors at St. James Cathedral, Downtown Brooklyn, Sept. 11. Yuen lost her son and Burke fled from the North Tower that day.

On the morning of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was the main celebrant at a diocesan Mass of Remembrance for the families of 9/11 victims and survivors at St. James Cathedral, Downtown Brooklyn. The bishop personally greeted attendees at a reception following Mass.

“The King of Love, My Shepherd Is,” was the opening hymn at the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Special concelebrants at the liturgy included retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, Auxiliary Bishops Frank Caggiano and Octavio Cisneros, Msgr. John Strynkowski, rector, and Father Paul Anel. Deacons Bryan Amore and Jaime Cobham assisted.

On the altar stood an image of Our Lady of Sorrows holding the burning Twin Towers close to her heart as planes are flying toward her.

Among the congregation were family members of victims, survivors and concerned citizens from parishes in Brooklyn and Queens.

Jeanne Ferrier from St. Vincent Ferrer, East Flatbush, attended to support the victims’ families and thank God for the blessing she received that day.

“My daughter used to walk past the buildings every day.  Something told her not to go into work that day,” said Ferrier, who was at work when she heard about the first plane.  Her heart jumped and the phone rang.  “My daughter called and said, ‘Mommy, I’m home. Don’t worry.’ I know God saved her and He blessed me.”

William and Frances Allen from St. Mark’s Church, Sheesphead Bay, were remembering both a friend and family member.  It was a difficult day for William, who was among the first responders to the 9/11 attacks with the U.S. Coast Guard.  He lost his friend, Firefighter Jeffrey Palazzo, a Coast Guard reservist.  Frances lost her first cousin, Joseph F. Grillo, who worked for the Port Authority.

Police chaplain Msgr. Robert Romano distributes Communion to NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly during a Mass of remembrance at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights, for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

After Mass, the couple planned to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, the path used by so many to enter and escape lower Manhattan on that dire day.

“As we commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 10 years ago, we come to look forward as well as to look back,” the bishop said in his opening remarks. “Today’s readings are particularly adapted to our need to understand mercy and forgiveness.

In his homily, the bishop reflected on the both challenging and comforting words from Scripture and on the anniversary of the attacks. He encouraged the faithful to look back with reverence, but not become immobilized. Rather, he told them to use their memories to bring them forward, saying, “as Christians, we are people of hope, and hope always looks to the future.”

He noted that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a Pastoral Letter, “Living with Faith and Hope,” on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Speaking of the letter, he said, “Forgiveness involves many aspects and periods; many times for different action. They told us that the weeks and months ahead would first be times of prayer.”

The bishop called the omission of prayer at Ground Zero on the 10th anniversary a “political decision” and “probably a great mistake.”

“I know that you never cease to pray for your departed loved ones and for all who suffered this great tragedy,” he said.

He reminded those present that they are united with their loved ones, friends and the entire communion of saints at every Eucharistic celebration. “We are never closer to them than in the Eucharist,” he said.

The bishop’s words and the reading from Romans, in particular, gave comfort and hope to Gilma Yuen, who attended the Mass with Winnie Burke, both parishioners from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Astoria. They presented the Offertory gifts.

Yuen teared up as she recalled her 32-year-old son, Elkin. She said he regularly took her grocery shopping and brought her to his home for dinner.

On that morning a decade ago, he was meeting with 68 colleagues from Carr Futures, a brokerage firm, at One World Trade Center. They were on the 92nd floor when the first plane hit the North Tower. In telephone calls, they relayed that they had survived the impact but could not evacuate; the doors were jammed.

Yuen said her son had survived the bombing in February, 1993, and for a long time after the 2001 attack, she refused to give up hope, not only for herself but her son’s wife and three-year-old daughter.

When his left hand bearing his wedding ring was found, she visited Msgr. Paul Sanchez, then-pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who celebrated a memorial Mass for family and friends.

“The wounds won’t heal but my faith, it gets stronger,” said Yuen, who started attending daily Mass after 9/11. While her daughter-in-law and granddaughter offered to go with her to the memorial ceremony in Manhattan, she declined. “I prefer to stay with my God,” she said.

After the diocesan Mass, she planned to attend her parish’s 5 p.m. Mass with Burke, who experienced that tragic day firsthand.

imageShe was running late on her way to work on the 45th floor of 7 World Trade Center in the legal department of Solomon Smith Barney. When she emerged from the subway inside One World Trade Center, the first plane had hit and black smoke was billowing toward her. She ran outside, dazed and surrounded by broken glass and distorted steel. When she looked up, she couldn’t believe that there were people, some holding hands, jumping from the upper stories.

“When the second plane hit, pure panic set in,” she said. “It was like running with the bulls. I fell and people started running over me. I thought I was going to be trampled to death. I said, ‘Dear Lord, please help me.’”

Though she recalls no face or figure, she said, “I was down on the ground one minute and standing up the next.” Once on her feet, she started making her way to Broadway and met up a co-worker with whom she travelled home to Astoria.

“I thank God for whomever lifted me up,” said Burke, who does not know if a Good Samaritan or her guardian angel brought her to her feet. “I definitely know it (the experience) made me stronger and made me value life.”

Burke plans to visit the memorial later this month but for Yuen, it will take more time. “I’m just not ready to go yet,” she said, as Burke gently took her hand.

Mass with Police Chaplain
Ten years ago officers from the New York City Police Department showed the world what leadership and courage means as they rescued people on 9/11 and helped the city recover.

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of this tragedy, Msgr. Robert J. Romano, deputy chief chaplain of the New York City police department, welcomed Raymond W. Kelly, police commissioner of the City of New York, officers who served during the attacks and the recovery, and the family members of officers who gave their lives protecting New York City at a vigil Mass in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.

Msgr. Romano, pastor, has been attending to the police department’s spiritual needs for the past decade. During the months after the attacks, he celebrated Mass with them every Sunday. Commissioner Kelly also attended those services.

“We came together because we needed help and that help came in God,” Msgr. Romano said during his homily. “He gave us the gift of faith. We came to celebrate, not death, but the gifts from God.”

At the end of the Mass, Commissioner Kelly addressed the congregation. He thanked Msgr. Romano for the spiritual guidance he provided during and after the terrorist attacks. He recalled that first 20-minute Mass celebrated on the first Sunday after 9/11 that brought a spiritual point-of-view to the devastation.

The commissioner thanked the officers for their service during the city’s crisis from running into collapsing buildings, to sifting through the dust and debris in Staten Island’s landfill, to spending countless hours in the city’s morgue cataloging personal items to return to grieving loved ones.

“The world owes you a debt that we could never return,” he said.

He also recognized the sacrifice of the family members of the 28 police officers who died on 9/11 and the 49 officers and one civilian employee who died since as a direct result of the attacks.

“God bless the fallen heroes, God bless their families, and God bless this wonderful country,” he said.

Jeannette Leahy lost her son, Police Officer James Leahy, on 9/11. She said these services help bring spiritual guidance but the loss has not gotten any easier in the last ten years.

“It has gotten worse,” she said. “It’s hard when we sit down to meals, especially during the holidays. There is always that empty chair.”
Janet Kloepfer, who also lost her son, Police Officer Ronald P. Kloepfer, said she finds hope in God but the loss is still there.

NYC Firefighters and families pray the Our Father during Mass celebrated on Sept. 11 by Msgr. John Delendick at the Lorraine St. firehouse in Red Hook.
NYC Firefighters and families pray the Our Father during Mass celebrated on Sept. 11 by Msgr. John Delendick at the Lorraine St. firehouse in Red Hook.

“Everyday you realize that it’s permanent,” she said. “They are never coming back.”

High school ROTC members from the U.S. Army and Marines were also present during the ceremony and helped usher people and distribute food during the reception for the police afterward. Parishioners and others who wanted to commemorate the heroes of 9/11 also participated.

Parishioner Diane Murphy found the service beautiful and full of hope. She lost a personal friend, Fire Lieut. Kenneth Phelan, who coached her daughters’ basketball team. She said she looked forward to this Mass “out of respect for all these people who lost their lives that day and the families that still suffer that loss.”

Joe Terrzyoua came back to his former parish to show his support of the efforts of the police department. His son-in-law, Police Officer Joe Piraino, survived 9/11 while on duty.
Present during the ceremony were Chief of Department Joseph Esposito, retired Commissioner Joseph Dunne; retired Chief Charles Kammerdener; retired Chief William A. Morange; retired Chief of Detectives William Allee; and Assistant Chief Thomas M. Chan, commander of Brooklyn South.

Firehouse Liturgy
Forgiveness was the message that the NYC Fire Dept. chaplain brought to a Brooklyn firehouse on the 10th anniversary of the terrorists attacks of 9/11.

“How are you going to talk about forgiveness in light of what happened at the World Trade Center?” asked Msgr. John Delendick during his homily at a Mass he celebrated at Engine Co. 279 and Ladder Co. 131 in Red Hook. The station on Lorraine St. lost five of its members during the rescue efforts following the 2001 attacks.

Revenge would not be an adequate response, said the chaplain, because those who perpetrated the event are either dead or in custody.
“If we are Christians and Jesus demands we be people of forgiveness, then how do we do that? Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we have to be friends. They robbed us of people that we loved. They put a burden on top of all of us. We have to learn how to talk about lifting this burden off us. Why should I allow them to make me carry around this burden?”

The answer, suggested Msgr. Delendick, is through forgiveness, which he said will enable victims to live more freely.

“Today we come together to remember how much we loved those who are gone and how much they loved us,” he said. “They were given to us to love and to cherish. God gave you a precious treasure that was lost on 9/11. We remember those that we loved so that we can have love for one another.”

A positive response to the homily came from Brunhilda Rodriguez, mother of Firefighter Anthony Rodriguez, who was killed on 9/11.
“I’m a big forgiver,” said Mrs. Rodriguez, a member of St. Rita’s parish on Staten Island. “I have so much to live for. I have 13 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Among the visitors was Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, who served as NYC Fire Commissioner from 1980 to 1982. “I thought monsignor’s talk was wonderful and very thoughtful,” said Hynes. “You’re not going to sell everyone on the concept of forgiveness. It’s very difficult to understand. But the hate is devastating if you allow it to consume you. It’s poison.”

Msgr. Delendick, who narrowly escaped death during his response to the terrorists attacks, celebrated Mass with a chalice engraved in memory of fallen Firefighter Jeffrey Giordano. On the altar was a small cross made out of steel from the World Trade Center site.
Music during the liturgy was provided by four-year-old violinist Jonathon Okseniuk, a nephew of Fireman Rodriguez.

Also present at the Mass was the family of fallen Firefighter Michael Ragusa.

The other members of the firehouse killed on 9/11 were Lieut. Anthony Jovic and Firefighters Christian Regenhard and Ronnie Henderson.

Following the liturgy, a hearty breakfast was served to all in attendance.