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placeholder 9/11:


Thieves strike Antioch church

Oakland Cathedral begins series of concerts through December

Crowd gathers for Twilight by the Lake

At relocated interfaith service, life, legacy of Rev. King recalled

St. James parish celebrates Mother of Vailankanni festival

New book aids parishes in ministering to gays

Gala aids Oakland sculpture honoring 25 peace leaders

College students spend summer vacation working with poor

Events target teens, parents

Youth group in San Leandro

Principals receive Medal of Merit

• Deacon Hector Victoria
• Sister M. Alice Gough, SHF
• Father Ralph Murphy, SDB
• Sister Mary Leonard Donovan, SHF
• Mary Lou Stelly

Group offers faith events on topics for young people

Church has evolving answer on reality of Adam and Eve

Serra High christens $21M arts, science, pool complex

Study finds cohabitation more harmful to children than divorce

Rice Bowl grant applications sought

Casa Vincentia sets fundraising goal

Film project seeks Cristeros

Interfaith Blood Drive exceeds goal

placeholder September 5, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA

Patrick O’Shea, 9, of Chicago rests on a bench Aug. 18 at a memorial at the Pentagon dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
CNS photo/Bob Roller

9/11: 10 YEARS AFTER

Anniversary sparks reflection
on spiritual dimension

RYE, N.Y. — As Chief Joseph W. Pfeifer of the New York City Fire Department sees it, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a global trauma and the 10th anniversary of the attacks provides a transformative opportunity for the world community to pause and think about the tragedy’s spiritual dimension and its aftermath.

CNS graphic/Emily Thompson

On Sept. 11, 2001, Pfeifer was chief of the 1st Battalion, one of the first on the scene and in charge of directing firefighter response in the north tower of the World Trade Center. He met his firefighter brother in the lobby of the building as Lt. Kevin Pfeifer responded to the second alarm. They exchanged a few words, and Kevin headed up the stairs. He helped evacuate workers and directed other firefighters to safety, but he was killed in the collapse of the building.

“People were angry at God and they had every right to be, but that was not my experience,” Pfeifer said in an interview. “I was walking back to the firehouse from the site on the second day, when we knew there would be no more survivors. It was completely dark except for the lights we had brought in. There was no power and there was smoke everywhere.

“Instead of anger, I felt an encounter, as if I was coming back to an old friend, or putting on an old sweatshirt. I had wrestled with God and spirituality before. I had had the experience of being in a conflicted place and trying to understand what it means,” Pfeifer said.

“How do you encounter spirituality and what is your personal experience of God? Mine was very much on West Street, walking back in complete sadness, but it was a place I’d been to before.”

Pfeifer graduated from Cathedral College in Douglaston, N.Y., and studied two years at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y., from which he later graduated with a master’s degree in theology. He said he was familiar with wrestling with God and trying to figure out what he was called to do with his life. He is now the chief of counterterrorism and emergency preparedness for the New York City Fire Department and addresses groups of people in many parts of the world.

Pfeifer said there is transformation through trauma.

“We used to think the 9/11 attacks were just New York and D.C., and Pennsylvania, but they were more than that,” he said. “It was a global trauma, an entire world encounter and transformation occurred” when people could see that all local acts of terrorism, whether in Ireland or Israel or Afghanistan, were represented at the World Trade Center.

“It gave the victims of terrorism an international voice and showed that terrorism is a crime against humanity,” he said.

People encounter spirituality in different ways, he said, and the 10th anniversary will allow people to connect their individual experiences with those of people in a larger group.

One such larger group devastated by the Sept. 11 attacks lives in Rockaway Peninsula at the southwest tip of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Rockaway is a relatively isolated section of the populous borough of Queens. Generations of New Yorkers have escaped the summer heat on its Atlantic Ocean beaches and more than 100,000 people are now full-time residents of the handful of communities that span the narrow 10-mile stretch. The barrier peninsula is known locally as the Irish Riviera because it attracted so many New Yorkers of Irish ancestry.

Rockaway is home to firefighters, police officers, emergency responders and financiers and the collapse of the World Trade Center tore a huge hole in the heart of the peninsula. Seventy residents were killed in the disaster. Many of them worshipped at one of the eight Catholic churches that punctuate the flat, sandy neck of land.

Pfeifer is a longtime summer resident of Breezy Point and worships at St. Thomas More in Rockaway Point. He described one of several memorials on the peninsula that includes quiet spaces to encourage reflection.

Msgr. Martin T. Geraghty was pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Belle Harbor in 2001. Twelve of the World Trade Center victims were buried from the church. On Nov. 12, three days after the last funeral, Msgr. Geraghty was celebrating the 9 a.m. Mass when an American Airlines flight bound for the Dominican Republic crashed one block from the church, killing all 260 people on the plane and five on the ground, including parishioners.

“At Christmas 2001, a friend from Michigan asked if I was ‘over it yet’,” Msgr. Geraghty said. “I told him it’ll never be over for us. It has been a defining moment in the lives of families here.”

He said, “There is an ongoing role for people. The message of the Gospel didn’t become irrelevant that day. We’re just at the beginning: 2,000 years hasn’t been long enough for our tribal human hearts to absorb the message of Jesus Christ.”

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