Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The priests of 9/11

Father Edward J. Burns, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has written an article entitled The Priests of September 11, 2001: Men of Word and Sacrament.
Father Kevin Smith, a chaplain with the Nassau County Fire Department, received word from his secretary to turn on the news. In learning of the situation at the World Trade Center, he picked up his brother, Patrick, a firefighter in New York City, and proceeded to the WTC. As he describes in "We Were There . . ." he came upon Father Mychal Judge's body after the collapse of the first tower. Not recognizing the man, he simply verifies his death, blesses the body, and continues on his mission. After the collapse of the tower, he learns that rescue workers had continued to carry the body of Father Judge to an office building. Father Smith looked for them, was taken to the body that he could then identify, and asked that Father Judge be taken to St. Peter's Church. It was there that Father Judge's body was placed near the altar in the sanctuary. Father Smith went to the first pew—and prayed.

Maryknoll missioner, Father Raymond Nobiletti, MM, pastor of Transfiguration Parish in New York, was one of the first priests on the scene after the attacks of the World Trade Center. A photographer captured the priest ministering to a woman who was severely burned. Moments after the photo was taken, the south tower of the WTC fell. Father Nobiletti and the others photographed were stunned and dazed by the force of the collapsed building. The second photograph shows Father Nobiletti, still wearing his stole, covered in soot and ashes.

The entire article is on the website of the USCCB here. These stories and others have been collected into a booklet entitled September 11, 2001, We Were There . . .: Catholic Priests, How They Responded, In Their Own Words, illustrating how some priests fulfilled their role as men of word and sacrament during the events of September 11, 2001. It is available online at www.usccb.org/vocations/wewerethere.shtml