Tuesday, September 10, 2002

NY churches comfort, listen

By Robert Anglen ranglen@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK - The mayor says he is relying on a higher power to help ease the city's suffering on Sept. 11.

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        From the moment church bells toll at 10:29 a.m. - marking the one-year anniversary of the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower - priests, missionaries, rabbis and pastors throughout New York say they are ready to answer Mayor Michael Bloomberg's call.

        While churches and synagogues are offering special services, prayers, meals and choir memorials, religious leaders say this is just an extension of a mission that began a year ago and will continue long after the anniversary.

        “We are the largest, closest, functioning church to ground zero that didn't get shut down,” says the Rev. David Rider, priest in charge at Grace Church on Broadway. “We were right in the path of people coming north after it happened. Our parishioners gave out beverages. We gave out more than 6,000 cups.”

        He says Grace Church lost three families in the attacks and the anniversary has reawakened strong feelings in people. But services must be kept low key.

        “We don't want to overdo it,” the Rev. Mr. Rider says. “Some people are tired of it, saturated.”

        One of the issues facing churches is anger, and the Rev. Mr. Rider says there has been a lot of it. Anger at the terrorists, anger at God.

        “I said in a service (Sunday) that we have given up our naiveti, but we never give up hope,” he says. “We worship a God who gets his hands dirty. This is not the only time we have had trauma.”

        At the Wall Street Synagogue, Rabbi Meyer Hager says that anger is very real, but he says Jews do not question God.

        “Hashem is pleading, how do we respond?” reads a poster picturing the familiar image of the plane striking the second World Trade Center tower that the rabbi was hanging in the synagogue lobby Monday.

        “People still want to get it off their chests,” Rabbi Hager says. “One of the biggest things is that business is still affected. Business is down 30-60 percent and the mood is not too good.”

        The Beekman Street synagogue is only a few blocks from ground zero and was cut off for several days after the tower collapses. Once members were allowed back in, the rabbi says they had no power for at least a week. For Wednesday, he says, the synagogue is planning a noon lunch and a service.

        Many who belong to the synagogue are asking a tough question.

        “They wonder, is this really the end?” he says, explaining that some believe the events of Sept. 11 signal the beginning of the coming of the Messiah. “It is interesting that 9-11 is sandwiched between two of our holiest days.”

        Rosh Hashanah began at sundown Friday and Yom Kippur starts Sunday.

        In Chinatown, a neighborhood that has taken a huge financial blow since the fall of the Twin Towers, the Catholic Transfiguration Church has provided a refuge for Inez Mazzarise and Elisa Garbarino.

        “I am happy that our church has a novena for us,” Ms. Mazzarise says. “We remember the (victims) every day. We think about all the people who were killed, all of those beautiful people.”

        The novena -a traditional nine-day succession of prayers - began Sept. 3 at Transfiguration. In this case, it focuses on victims of the World Trade Center and prayers for peace.

        “It's really lifting up our spirits,” says Ms. Garbarino. “We are trying to get through all of this.”

        Throughout the city, Wednesday promises to be a noisy day, with bell tolls, sermons and choirs singing hymns. One of the loudest places will be in Brooklyn, where the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir will put on a free memorial concert.

        Closer to ground zero in Lower Manhattan, Trinity Church will toll its bells every hour on the hour.

        The church, just a scant block from The Hole, as the site of the World Trade Center is now called, will host presentations by the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the chairman of the Bank of New York.

        But the message doesn't stop at the church for members of the Youth with a Mission group, which will man “prayer stations” all day Wednesday.

        “We're not sure what to expect that day,” says Melissa Skarnas of Hawaii. “It will probably be crowded.”

        The prayer stations, marked by a bright red flag and a table, have been up for several years. But this week, the Christian groups have been especially visible around ground zero, offering to lead people in prayer right on the sidewalk.

        That is all well and good for Robert Teng Wen of Queens, but he says the city has gotten carried away with the need for healing.

        “I need the church every single day of my life,” he says. “But not for just Sept. 11.”

        Mr. Teng Wen questions why the country can't seem to get over the events of last year.

        He also wonders why the same concern wasn't given to veterans who once fought this country's wars.

        “How did the guys who fought at Guadalcanal get over it? How did the guys who fought at Pearl Harbor and Cologne adjust? Did they need all of this?” he asks. “I am somewhat ashamed that so many people, Americans, can't seem to adjust anymore.”


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