FOREVER CHANGED …

FOREVER CHANGED …

Nine days after the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington, I wrote an email to everyone in my address book at that time, family and friends alike. Today, as we commemorate the 17th anniversary of those attacks, I thought about that letter and how I described my feelings, the reactions in Rome and in Europe, and how people marked September 11th, one of the blackest days in American history.

I am in Honolulu on the tail end of my vacation time and it was fascinating today to re-read that email – which I entitled “Forever changed” – at a distance of 17 years and now I’d like to share it with you. I was working for the Vatican Information Service at the time.

A month ago I visited Ground Zero and the amazing Museum erected to memorialize that event and the lives of the 2,977 people who died. The memorial fountains honor 2,983 people as they added the name f the 6 people killed in an attack on the Twin Towers in 1993. Visiting the museum was like being in a cathedral – the feeling of awe, reverence and recollection has made this a spiritual site for so many. People spoke in very low tones, or they did not speak at all. It was extremely impressive.

I’ve created a slide show of some photos I took and will try at a later date to explain each picture.

Dear Family and friends,

I had all the best intentions of writing to you last week, following the horrific, unspeakable events in our nation, but too many things got in the way and time just ran out each day. I had just returned to Rome from the States so there was some jet lag, but mainly a great deal of work as soon as I came back. And then our days became filled with and dominated by nonstop CNN coverage of doubtless the most incredible week in our nation’s history. I am not sure the magnitude of that terrorist attack is truly implanted in my brain yet.

Please sit down and have a second cup of coffee for this will be a long letter. Today I wanted to share with you not only my feelings but life in Rome as of 2:46 p.m. (local time on Black Tuesday.

On September 11, just before 3 p.m. Rome time (9a.m. in NYC), my colleague Alfonso called from his office next to mine and told me to turn on CNN to see something horrendous. I did so and thought for about one minute that I was looking at a horrible plane accident. And then I saw – right there on my screen, bigger than life – a second plane directly hit the other Twin Tower – and I knew it was terrorism. I was riveted to the screen, my brain not yet totally processing what my eyes had seen – and then the news that the Pentagon was burning! And then that a fourth plane, with terrorist commandos, had crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. Real became surreal.

The impossible became possible.

I watched TV in the office for a few hours and then went home. Since my satellite dish has not been working since July, I watched a bit of Italian news and then took a nap, trying to shake off jet lag, and later joined American friends for dinner that night at their house. These were times when one craved the company and comfort of friends, especially American friends.

The next hours and days the TV became like another limb on my body – I could not get through the days without it – especially because we were cut off from America. For a day or two it was tough or impossible to reach New York and Washington via phone and for a number of days there was no physical way to get to the United States from Rome – or anywhere else in the world. You’ll never understand that feeling – although some of you to whom I’m writing live in Rome or abroad so you DO understand.

I know all of you have been watching TV and I am sure you are fully aware of the support for the U.S. around the world – the candlelight vigils and processions, the myriad church services, the flying of flags at half mast, the countless bouquets of flowers laid near embassies or consulates, the Europeans who stopped their American friends – or even strangers – to pat their arms, express their condolences, give them a hug, buy them a meal or ask if they needed someone to be near them.

The three young children of an American colleague of mine in the press office all asked Joy if they could donate blood to help the wounded Americans. My friends at ZI GAETANA’s restaurant in Rome helped some of the Americans stranded here last week by offering them their meals. I am sure such stories were repeated throughout Italy – and the world.

I am also sure you saw the extraordinarily moving images of how Europe mourned last Friday when everyone and everything stopped for 3 minutes at noon and stores kept their doors closed for 10 minutes starting at noon.

Whoever they were – simple citizens, government leaders, tourists, salespeople, business men and women – alone, in twos, groups of 10, 100 and 100,000 – and wherever they were at noon – at outdoor markets, in churches, touring, eating lunch in a fancy restaurant or a fast food place, at work in factories, offices and stores – they simply stopped, frozen in their tracks, silent in prayer and reflection for 3 minutes. It was like the biblical story of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt.

To see the images on the Italian news that afternoon and evening was remarkable, moving and unforgettable. One station played “Amazing Grace” for 3 minutes and simply showed images of how Europeans stopped, put their lives on hold for 3 minutes and mourned.

Here in the Vatican the staff members of each office in the Roman Curia prayed the angelus at noon and sang the requiem. I sincerely hope you all saw the unforgettable pictures of an anguished Pope John Paul praying in his private chapel at Castelgandolfo. And, in a first in the history of weekly general audiences, the Holy Father dedicated his weekly catechesis during the September 12 audience in St. Peter’s Square, not to a religious or spiritual theme, but entirely to the attack in the United States. And that is what my show on Vatican Radio that Wednesday was dedicated to – as were many shows in many languages.

Italians have called and written me (and just about every American living in this great country) to express their condolences, horror, indignation, disbelief, anger and support for our country. They have also expressed in recent days their fears that the U.S. will retaliate in such a way that they will stoop to the level of the terrorists and ending up killing innocent people. Europeans, to a man, woman and child, have said they are all Americans now. Every Italian who has spoken to me has said how well they know that their country, that Europe, would not be what it is today had it not been for America during and after World War II – especially the Marshall Plan. “For once in our lives, we can now help America,” is what they tell me.

As the hours, then the days, then the first week passed, feelings have changed very little. If anything they are more profound. The mourning will be lengthy, the anger deep, the revulsion everlasting. All of us STILL want to wake up – because we know this was all just a terrible nightmare and things will be right when dawn comes and the sun rises and warms us and dissipates the darkness that surrounds us.

Like it or not, we have awakened ,only to discover that this has not been a dream or a nightmare but rather our worst nightmare come true. And the full impact will come in small ways and large: a greater police presence at monuments, embassies, government buildings, military bases and “symbols” such as the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, St. Peter’s, etc. There will be more requests for IDs as we move about, and also a terrific impact on the world of travel – passengers, airline employees, travel agents, airport employees and so on.

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I’d like to interject two personal notes here: 1. I don’t mind if some of my rights are abbreviated if the new measures being enacted will help to eradicate terrorism in the world; 2. I do not agree with the media who feel that the public “has a right” to know everything that is going on. We do not have a right – nor do we need to know what the government is planning. I don’t want America to cease being an open society – but we don’t have to know what the CIA, FBI, etc., etc., are doing to entrap and/or capture terrorists, to infiltrate their organizations, to destroy their economic base.

This past Sunday at 10:30 at the church of Santa Susanna here in Rome, the parish for Americans which has been run by the Paulist Fathers since 1922, there was an extraordinarily touching and beautiful Mass for the victims and families and friends of the victims of this attack. American Cardinal Edmund Szoka presided, about 50 priests (one of whom lost a relative) concelebrated and I was honored to be one of the three lectors. There were so many people that they flowed out of the church and onto the adjacent piazza. The new ambassador to the Holy See, Jim Nicholson was there with his wife Suzanne, as well as former Ambassador Thomas Melady and his wife, Margaret. A surprise guest, who found himself stranded in Rome after the attacks, was Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his wife.

Father Paul Robichaud, our rector, gave a beautiful homily and tried to answer the questions “Where was God?” and “Why did God allow this to happen?” Half of Sunday’s collection will be sent to New York to help the families of the victims.
At the end of Mass Cardinal Szoka offered some stirring reflections in both English and Italian and then Ambassador Nicholson spoke. He had paper in front of him but rarely looked at it – the words came straight from his heart. As we processed out of church, we three lectors were last and Richard Zaccaroli carried the U.S. flag – which received an enormous round of applause. We stood outside the church and sang patriotic songs, reluctant to leave each other.

I know that what we did here in Rome was repeated thousands of time, in tens of thousands of churches, all around the world. Our fears, our hurt and anger, our pride, our solidarity, our patriotism, our hopes, our prayers – the entire spectrum of emotions – you felt and lived these and so did we.

Well, dear family and friends, I think that is it for now. I’m sure I will think of things I missed, but thanks for hanging in there.

A closing note before I leave you: I have a colorful sign on my desk that I’d like to share with you: “Don’t just live the length of your life, Live the width of it as well.”

God bless you one and all! May He protect you and yours – and may He give you an extra big hug today!

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VATICAN INSIDER PRESENTS JULIANA BIONDO AND “PATRUM” – POPE ADDRESSES U.N. AS IT MARKS ITS 70TH ANNIVERSARY – PAPAL PORTRAIT UNVEILED IN WASHINGTON

As I write, an inter-religious prayer service is taking place at the Ground Zero Memorial in New York. The Pope placed flowers at the site and met with 20 family members of first responders killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Pope and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, will visit the Memorial Museum.

Just before 4 pm local time today, the Holy Father will visit Our Lady Queen of Angels school in Brooklyn, an elementary school for students from low income families, most of whom receive scholarships to attend this school. Pope Francis will meet children and families of immigrants. At 6 pm Friday he celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Saturday and Sunday, Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia for the long-awaited World Meeting of Families under the leadership of Abp. Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. The weekend includes Mass with bishops, clergy and religious of Pennsylvania and, at Independence National Historical Park, an encounter for religious freedom with the Hispanic community and other immigrants. Afterwards the Pope transfers to Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Festival of Families and prayer vigil for the World Meeting of Families.

Sunday the Pope meets with bishops, visits a correctional facility and, at 4 pm, celebrates Mass for the 8th World Meeting of Families. His plane for Rome departs Philadelphia at 8 pm Sunday.

VATICAN INSIDER PRESENTS JULIANA BIONDO AND “PATRUM”

I urge you this week not to miss “Vatican Insider” and my fascinating conversation with Juliana Biondo, creator of the app called PATRUM for the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican. A native of Baltimore, Juliana is a young, enthusiastic, dedicated member of the Patrons team with a great love for art and also for modern technology. You will not want to miss a minute of this conversation! It truly would be your loss!

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It is such fun to be around young people today! The ones I know – and now I add Juliana to that list! – seem to be ultra-talented, intelligent, exuberant youths, far-sighted young people with a passion for life and all the newness it brings every day – and technology is certainly a part of that! And you will see this when Juliana explains PATRUM and how the idea for this app came about and what she anticipates bringing to it on a daily basis. It is available now only for Apple products but the Android app is under development.

As you know, in the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at www.ewtn.com) or on Sirius-XM satellite radio. If you live outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:30 am (Eastern time) and re-airs Sundays at 4:30 pm (ET). Check for your time zone. Past shows are found in Vatican Insider archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

POPE ADDRESSES U.N. AS IT MARKS ITS 70TH ANNIVERSARY

In a highly anticipated speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Pope Francis Friday afternoon spoke of the protection of the environment, the protection of man, in particular, the poor, marginalized, excluded and victims of war and violence, today’s “culture of waste,” and the effects of a globalized economy that runs rampant, which too often leads to social exclusion with, “its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime.”

The Holy Father’s Spanish-language talk was 3,700 words in length. Translations were on the Vatican website, news.va and simultaneous interpretation was offered at U.N. headquarters.

His entire address in English can be found here: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-addresses-the-un-general-assembly

Following are some of the salient paragraphs:

“…the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.”

“The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power.”

“First, it must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. … Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

“The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste.”

“…The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.”

“… It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

“To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.

“At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.”

“Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.

“War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm….”

“ … Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust.

“The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

“… While regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

“These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.”

“Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption.”

“The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.

“Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good.”

PAPAL PORTRAIT UNVEILED IN WASHINGTON

Internationally known portrait artist, Igor Babailov, officially unveiled his portrait of Pope Francis yesterday afternoon at the apostolic nunciature, the Vatican embassy, in Washington. The painting commemorates the historic visit of the Holy Father to the United States. Babailov has painted the official portraits of some of the most important leaders in our century including presidents, prime ministers, royalty and celebrities and three Popes.

In a press release about the unveiling, Babailov says, “My painting of Pope Francis which I called ‘The Holy Cross,’ is more than a portrait in the traditional sense. It is a story of the Pope told through symbols with the Pontiff’s figure in the center. It tells of His Holiness’s mission of love, faith and devotion to help the needy and bring people of the world together. During the unveiling of the painting, the Holy Father said to me ‘It is inspirational, it touches me!’”

In this photo, Igor is explaining the symbolism to Pope Francis: They are joined by Msgr. Mark Miles, who has been the papal translator throughout the trip so far and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the apostolic nuncio. Behind Igor is Alberto Gasbarri, the papal trip advance man.

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His portrait of St. John Paul II hangs in the Vatican in Castelgandolfo and his portrait of Pope Benedict XVI hangs in the Vatican in Rome. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI personally selected Babailov’s portrait to represent his papacy in the Vatican Splendor’s museum tour in the US, where more than 200 artifacts that had never left the Vatican Museums, were displayed. Igor Babailov was the only living artist to exhibit alongside Michelangelo.

Pope Francis’ portrait –

Igor 1

I have known Mary and Igor for many years and we get together each time they come to Rome. The last time Mary and Igor were in Rome, as a matter of fact, Igor sat close to Pope Francis during a Wednesday general audience so he could capture the Pope’s expressions, movements, etc.

Igor has told me he relies on his hand drawings, on sketches done in the presence of the person whose portrait he will do. He said he cannot work from photographs because he feels he cannot capture the essence the spirit, the soul of his subject through a photo, And yet, one of his most famous portraits, such as that of George Washington, have been done based on previous paintings. (Here is his website: www.babailov.com).

Mary said in an email to me with the two photos, “Words cannot communicate yesterday, only love could.”