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Presiding bishop preaches 9/11 sermon at St. Paul's Chapel

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked the congregation gathered Sept. 11 at St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan, across the street from Ground Zero, to pray for those who perpetrated the violence, those who sought vengeance and for the families and friends of those who died in the terrorist attacks 10 years earlier.

"We will not be healed if we hold hate in our hearts," Jefferts Schori told media following the service. "Healing comes through the discovery of common bonds."

About 200 people gathered Sept. 11 at St. Paul's Chapel for "A Mass for Peace," kicking off Trinity Wall Street's daylong observance themed "Remember to Love."

"We gather here today in peace, yearning and hoping that peace may come in this land and across the world. We gather to remember those who died violently and senselessly 10 years ago today," said Jefferts Schori in her sermon. "We gather to reflect on lives lost, families devastated, and hopes dashed. And still we gather in hope for hearts that will grow and learn and change, so that no nation will study war any more."

In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, St. Paul's Chapel became a staging area and sanctuary for rescue workers, police and firefighters, construction workers, and others who worked "the pit," as the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center towers came to be called.

Lisa Behnke, a volunteer firefighter with the Stony Brook Fire Department and a member of the vestry of Caroline Episcopal Church of Brookhaven in Setauket, New York, and her 17-year-old son John Lang, boarded at just after 3 a.m. a Long Island Railroad train bound for Penn Station to make it to St. Paul's in time for the service.

"I felt like I needed to be here in my faith community near Ground Zero," Behnke told ENS, adding that she came also for the first responders, the police and firefighters, who were not invited to the city's 9/11 commemoration, which could be seen and heard broadcast on a large screen from the 9/11 National Memorial at Ground Zero, behind the chapel, across Church Street.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been criticized for not inviting New York City and Port Authority police officers and New York City firefighters to the 10th anniversary commemoration. Bloomberg defended his decision saying there wasn't enough room for the families of the victims and the first responders. There were 343 New York City firefighters killed on 9/11. Religious leaders also were excluded from the official ceremony.

Trinity and St. Paul's played an important role immediately after 9/11 and in the 10 years since, said Jefferts Schori.

"This came to be a place for all, family, friend and foe," she said. "We don't need to be in the center of things, but here for those who need us. And that's what St. Paul's did; they were here for the people who needed them."

St. Paul's also has become a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A steady stream of tourists and onlookers visit Ground Zero daily, with many of them also passing through St. Paul's, where photos, cards, drawings, banners, flags, and other items sent to encourage rescue workers or as memorials remain on display.

Visitors stood around the chapel's perimeter, snapping photos and looking at the memorials, during the service.

Following the service, at 8:46 a.m., the exact time American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower, the Rev. James Cooper, rector of Trinity Wall Street, rang the Bell of Hope, a gift from the Lord Mayor and people of London, England, to the city of New York in 2002. New York Bishop Mark S. Sisk, who presided at the Eucharist, and the presiding bishop also took turns ringing the bell. 

-- Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for Episcopal News Service.