By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — South Carolina Catholics joined with all Americans across the country in prayer and solidarity with the victims of last week’s acts of terrorist violence and those who are working to assist them.
A day of mourning and prayer was observed in the Diocese of Charleston last Wednesday for all of the victims of the World Trade Center, Pennsylvania, and Pentagon disasters.
Catholic schools across the Palmetto State were closed for the day Sept. 12, and Bishop Robert J. Baker requested all priests to celebrate a special Mass for Times of Turmoil and Disaster.
The bishop did just that at a noon liturgy at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which filled to overflowing long before the procession began.
“The disasters in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania are a signal for all Americans to stop what we are doing, take time out to pray, to mourn the loss of our loved ones, and to ask, where do we go from here as a nation?” said Bishop Baker in opening comments. “We can only move from and through this tragedy if we turn to God in prayer, seek his inspiration and guidance, and look to him alone for healing, for reconciliation, for peace, and for hope.”
Msgr. Joseph Roth, pastor of the Cathedral and a vicar general of the diocese, gave the homily. “We may be hurt, but we will have life and lots of it. We look to the cross and in its darkest moments, we see hope for Easter Sunday come and with it salvation and new life. Today we stand by the cross in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection,” said the monsignor.
The Cathedral pastor then asked altar servers to light small candles that all the worshipers held amidst the emotional singing of “Christ be beside me.”
Afterwards, Deacon Philip Meyer read the intercessions, praying for healing of the nation, medical personnel, firemen and policemen, national and local leaders, people who seek justice and strive for peace, for all those in the world dedicated to the service of others, and for all who have died, especially victims of violence.
The collection taken up during the Mass was to be used to assist victims of the tragedies throughout the United States.
In concluding remarks, Bishop Baker said that peaceful solutions must be found to the delicate problems in our world and homes and that people need to be behind every effort in society to build bridges of harmony and peace.
Before the closing prayer, the bishop asked Charleston mayor and Cathedral parishioner Joseph P. Riley to come forward and share his thoughts with the congregation.
The mayor thanked the members of the Cathedral family for the opportunity to gather there, and he thanked all churches and synagogues that left their doors open for those wanting to pray. Riley extended his sympathies to those affected by the great tragedies across the land.
He reported that special duty Charleston police officers, such as search and rescue and bomb squad members, reported to New York City and Washington, D.C.
“We’ve done everything we could do here. Everything you could want. Each of you is wrestling with wanting to help. The city is doing everything it can do today,” said Riley.
Lastly, in his role as mayor, he wanted all to remember why the events of the past week had happened. “Our country is a good nation that opposes evil. Evil triumphs when good men do nothing,” he said. “We come together in prayer, sorrow, and love in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We will always stand against evil and intolerance, and we will prevail.”
National Day of Prayer and Remembrance
Two days following the diocesan observance, President George W. Bush declared Friday, Sept. 14, a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance.
Bishop Baker asked all parishes to join ecumenically with other faith communities in prayer. He also asked priests to offer all Masses that day for victims of the recent tragedies, for spiritual guidance for the president and civil leaders in this time of distress, and for world peace.
The bishop again offered the noon Mass at the Cathedral, which also featured an overflowing standing-room only audience, larger than even the crowded liturgy celebrated just two days earlier. Many military personnel in dress uniform were prominent among the worshipers.
Bishop Baker, in his opening remarks, thanked the congregation for coming together “at a moment’s notice” on the day of mourning and remembrance.
“We join all people of the United States as we gather as a nation to pray for the victims of these tragedies,” he said.
The president and civic leaders have crucial decisions to make in the days ahead, said the bishop. He asked for prayers for the world and all of its peoples.
“The president said war has been unleashed upon us, an insidious type of war with faceless people involved. Our lives and lifestyle are radically and drastically changed now. It is a critical time for Americans and the world,” Bishop Baker said.
He described how Friday was an especially fitting day for the American president to declare a day of prayer, as it was the feast of the Triumph of the Cross.
“The cross is honorable. Christ suffered upon it, and it is a symbol of Christ’s victory. Christ calls on us to pick up our cross. Some of us have lost relatives and friends in these tragedies. Let us unite our crosses and sufferings with Christ,” the bishop proclaimed.
The homily was preached by Father Thomas Reddimasu, parochial vicar at the Cathedral. He reminded listeners that they were gathered in a holy place to remember all who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of this country.
“We are grateful to them. Their sacrifices will be remembered forever, and their names will be praised in the days to come,” said Father Thomas.
“Now,” he continued, “there is an invitation for us to unite and fight against the terror and evil we see around us. It is time for us to reflect on what is going on around us, to think seriously about our responsibility and role as a people of God. It is not to perpetuate this type of violence. We strive for peace.” The parochial vicar explained that the day’s Gospel gives a fitting and timely answer for ongoing problems, quoting, “God so loved the world he sent his only begotten son to save the world on the cross.”
The native of India described how the cross becomes a symbol of victory and peace. “It is good for us to look to the cross, for the answer is on the cross. The person on the wood is the answer to all our problems,” he said.
“We don’t like to get into problems. We don’t want to face people easily. But escapism is not the solution. Let us face problems by looking at the cross. Let us turn to Jesus. He died for us, he sacrificed himself for us. Do not be discouraged.”
Father Thomas urged the Massgoers to dedicate themselves to the cause of humanity and making the world a peaceful place. “It is our responsibility. We must take it seriously and perform it properly,” he said, listing how violence is on the increase and terrorism is brewing across the world.
Prior to the recessional hymn, Bishop Baker called on participants to put aside differences to experience the victory won by Christ on the cross.
Mayor Riley again spoke. He provided information about a Sunday evening service of prayer and music at Liberty Square in Charleston, featuring a prayer by retired Bishop David B. Thompson and a choir performance.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to come together in prayer, sorrow, and patriotic feelings,” Riley offered. “All of us need to come together and share.”
“O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” boomed from the corner of Broad and Legare streets as the Mass came to an end. In a poignant moment, as he processed down the center aisle of the Cathedral, Bishop Baker stopped to given his condolences to Franciscan Sister Noreen Buttimer, pastoral associate at Church of the Nativity on James Island. A cousin of hers from San Francisco was on the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center towers. The woman left behind three small children.
The Diocese of Charleston is accepting donations to help support disaster relief efforts. Funds will be sent to dioceses affected by the acts of terrorism. Donations may be made out to The Diocese of Charleston, marked “Sept. 11 Disaster Relief.” Mail to Catholic Charities, 1662 Ingram Road, Charleston, SC 29407.