NEW YORK – As the nation heard words of testament from family members and colleagues of those lost in the 9/11 tragedy, faith leaders spoke of a form of unity that arose from the tragic event.
“Desperate tragedy, trauma and shock bring us close to strangers,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in a public statement on Monday. “That doesn’t make what happens good or explainable, it doesn’t take away the responsibility of those who did the damage or heal the grief of the bereaved.
“But for the rest of us, the connection is made, with our own humanity and the humanity of others.”
Williams was only a hundred yards away from the World Trade Center when the planes struck five years ago. He escaped uninjured.
“What do we need to do, to help us build on those moments of reconnection, so that we don’t lose sight of that naked vulnerability we share as human beings, so that we don’t forget about what we finally have in common with each other?” Williams posed for the world.
Family members of those killed on Sept. 11 established that commonality with those of other loved ones victimized in war and terrorism around the world as they gathered Monday night at the United Nations Church Center. There, they shared personal stories of pain and hope.
“The mafia erased the colors of my childhood,” Viviana Mantragola from Italy said Monday at the United Nations Church Center as she addressed a crowd of people from 15 different countries. “I was only ten the night my mum Renata Fonte was killed on the 31st of March 1984 by three gunshots. This was the first political murder by the mafia in Salento.”
Another shared, “After losing so many members of my family to the 1994 Tutsi genocide, I was full of fear, anger, hatred, sadness, guilt to have survived, and hopelessness for tomorrow.” Jean Baptiste Ntakirutimana from Rwanda, who spoke in his own native tongue, said he is healing now from the trauma.
The international and interfaith conference on Monday was sponsored by Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization founded by family members of 9/11 victims in 2001.
Each participant in the conference carried the same dream – a peaceful tomorrow.
“I’m just an ordinary man, who asks all of you together to build peace in our world; to be better in the future for our children. Peace, peace, peace! That’s the thing I’ve been dreaming of,” said Febby Isran from Jakarta, Indonesia.
Peaceful Tomorrows Director David Potorti said 9/11 opened an interfaith dialogue that would have otherwise never been opened among believers across the religious spectrum, particularly among those closely affected by similar tragedies.
On a similar note, Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, National Council of Churches associate general secretary for International Affairs and Peace, said in a released statement Monday that “in the midst of tragedy came an unprecedented wave of national unity,” referring to the heroism of rescue teams.
Still, beyond the states, more dialogue is needed on an international scale as one United Methodist leader pointed out.
“This fifth anniversary amplifies my belief that there should be more conversation, interaction and negotiation with nations that harbor and foster terrorism,” said Bishop Felton May, dean of Henry K. Kendell Science and Health Mission Center at Philander Smith College.
As thousands continue to mourn the deaths of loved ones from national tragedies and other acts of violence, Williams called for empathy.
“Those who’ve become hardened to violence of any kind, whether by actually bringing it about or just by assuming it’s never going to come near them, need to ‘take off their shoes’ (as Moses did in God’s presence) and recognize what it is like when flesh and blood are hurt, recognize that someone else’s suffering is my problem too,” the archbishop stated.