Pedro, the sixth of nine siblings (I am the oldest), was filled with happiness. Three weeks before 9/11, his wife Victoria and his young children (Camila, Paddy and Sofia), had returned to live with him in New York. There had been a change in his work at Cantor Fitzgerald that had raised his expectations. Now, they were living in Hoboken, NJ, in a friendly and energetic environment. He had been in the US four years already, having travelled from Buenos Aires in 1997 looking for opportunities and security since Argentina, jumping from crisis to crisis, was not experiencing its best moments.
I was at my home, in a Catholic parish in a neighborhood approximately 40 kilometers from the city of Buenos Aires, when I received the call from my brother Ignacio who told me about the attack and telling me to turn on the TV. At that time, I was a priest, a position I would leave in 2005. Immediately, our entire family came together to be with my parents. My mother cried and my father, broken from the pain, remained silent – silence that he guarded until March 2004 when he passed away and was united with Pedro for eternity.
As soon as the airports were re-opened, I left for New York and together with friends looked for Pedro and accompanied his family. Upon arriving, we realized that he was no longer among us. And we found ourselves in a city profoundly upset, disconcerted – but at the same time completely lacking vengeance. Stunned by what had happened, I wanted to remain united. We all experienced the profound compassion of others. And we felt, as I believe every inhabitant of Manhattan felt those days, that there was a deep unity with the entire world – one that gave support to our pain and to our losses.
I had been a Catholic priest since 1987 and always worked in impoverished areas. My work was always present and it remains so by means of the NGOs where I work, dedicated to find the paths by which individuals can get back on their own two feet – starting with the recuperation of their dignity. And also that, to be oneself does not mean to cost the unity between peoples but rather be independent while being aware of how much we all have in common. Life, since my own and my family’s experience of pain has made me feel more closely united with the men and women of the world who suffer unjustifiably. I remember well the meetings I had with the relatives of the victims of 9/11 in the Family Assistance Center that was operating on Pier 54. One of them was with Yamil Johnson, whose brother had also passed. I remember his face and the hug that we gave one another. Yamil is Muslim, from Algeria, and both of us were comforted knowing that our brothers were in a new life.
Over the past years, via the social projects with which I am involved (one is an NGO for the development of youth and adolescents living in the context of poverty, another is a microfinance project and another carries out a university scholarship program for indigenous students), I have come to realize that peace can only be built in a society if we are looking, at the same time, for peace within ourselves. A person divided, no matter how noble the causes, will sooner or later see the fruits of this personal division. Dialogue, meetings, compassion, mutual respect, self value – all are essential to be able to work toward justice and peaceful coexistence in increasingly complex societies.
Consequently, we need to renew our commitment to justice and peace in society and, at the same time, work on healing our personal wounds, freeing us from the rancor that life may have put upon our shoulders and go beyond our beliefs and prejudices which separate us. I am completely dedicated to these aims; my hands are full and I consider these goals as steps that create the same path.