BRIDGEPORT—As we observe the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 in the Diocese of Bridgeport, we are pleased to reprint pages from the 2001 October and November issues of Fairfield County Catholic.
They offer a first-hand account of how the diocese responded when four commercial airliners were hijacked mid-flight by al-Qaeda terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. A fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after a heroic struggle by the passengers.
Among the links provided are the front covers of the 2001 October and November issues, a column written by Bishop William E. Lori after the attacks, and reflections by priests and parishioners.
Almost 3,000 people were killed on that day, and it is estimated that more than 3,000 first responders, recovery workers and Manhattan residents have since passed away of illnesses and health conditions related to the disaster.
While it was immediately a national and international story, the terrorist attacks were also felt in an intensely local way because many parishioners in the Diocese of Bridgeport commuted to New York City daily or had friends and family members directly affected by the acts of violence.
Pastors and priests suddenly found themselves planning funerals and consoling families. There were also unsung acts of heroism on the part of diocesan laity and priests who immediately joined in the recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site.
United in prayer and grief, people of all ages, backgrounds, and professions flocked to churches around Fairfield County in the days following the terrorist attacks searching for meaning and understanding.
The front-page story of the September issue of FCC, which had gone to press just days before the attacks, reported that the Most Rev. William E. Lori has just completed his six-month pledge to visit every parish in the diocese as the newly installed Fourth Bishop of Bridgeport.
However, on Tuesday, September 11, Bishop Lori would have a much bigger challenge before him—bringing healing, hope and help to a diocese shattered by the terrorist acts and the loss of life.
“The terrorist attacks carried out on September 11, struck close to home. Many parishioners and citizens of Fairfield County are counted among the dead and missing, the injured and traumatized. During the past ten days I have spoken with many people just beginning to cope with the loss of loved ones–spouses parents, children, friends and colleagues,” the bishop wrote in his FCC column.
“Those who grieve the loss of loved ones and the survivors who must cope with the aftermath of this tragedy will continue to need our prayers love and support, not merely in the short term but indeed in the long term,” the bishop wrote.
“We think of the triumph of love in people who have opened their hearts in prayer. Maybe people who have not prayed in years have now opened their hearts to God in prayer because they and we recognize our need for God’s love, God’s strength, and God’s truth in our lives. We cannot, we dare not go it alone,” Bishop Lori said.
Just a couple of hours after the attacks on Tuesday, September 11, the bishop celebrated noon Mass for those who gathered at St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport, and, like many others stunned by the violence and loss, he searched for an understanding of the horrible acts.
“In the catastrophic events of this day, we have encountered the mystery of iniquity, a godless rage… leading the evil designs from human hearts that are the captive of the Evil One. We gather at this altar of Christ in this tragic hour, in the bedrock of conviction that the mystery of God’s love, the designs of God’s heart, will prevail,” he said in his homily that day.
On September 14, Bishop Lori again celebrated Mass at St. Augustine Cathedral as part of the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. Speaking to an overflow gathering Bishop Lori reflected on the new reality, which seemed to change everything in an instant. “Things that seemed important on Monday seemed so unimportant on Tuesday,” he said.
While blessed by Bishop Lori’s leadership, Catholics throughout the diocese were also inspired by their former Bishop, Edward M. Egan, who had left the diocese in the spring of 2000 to become Archbishop of New York.
In the October 2001 editorial, Dr. Joseph McAleer, editor of Fairfield County Catholic wrote:
“Catholic hearts in Fairfield County went out to our former bishop, Edward Cardinal Egan, as he made his way through Ground Zero and the hospitals, comforting the injured and the dying. He is leading a valiant struggle in his archdiocese and proposing a way forward. ‘We call for justice, he said. ‘We insist that those who have committed this crime be called before the courts of civilized people. We must not however allow our pursuit of justice to descent into sentiments of hate and retaliation.’ ”
The front cover of the November 2001 issue of Fairfield County Catholic began with the headline, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.” Underneath the headline were the names of 27 parishioners known at that time to have departed in the terrorist attacks.
The story noted that nine people from St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Greenwich had perished and that after Mass the children of the parish unfurled a giant American flag and sang “God Bless America” with Bishop Lori looking on.
The list of the deceased included men and women from 17 parishes located in the towns of Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, New Canaan, Wilton, Fairfield, Westport, Trumbull, Newtown, Ridgefield, Danbury, and New Fairfield. The youngest to perish was Candace Lee Williams age 20, of St. Edward the Confessor Parish in New Fairfield, and the oldest was Margaret Mary Conner, 57 of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown.
The five men from Our Lady of Fatima in Wilton who died on that day – Ed Fergus, age 40, Peter Fry, 36, John Iskyan, 41, Ed York, 45 and John Henwood, 35, were the fathers of 11 young children between them.
“We have been dealt a severe blow as a parish family by the terrorist of September 11. We are a family in grief. May the horrible events of September 11, not turn us away from God or one another…. Even through our tears and pain, we can still proclaim because of our faith in the Risen Jesus: Love is always stronger than hate. Life is always stronger than death,” said Father Michael C. Palmer, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima.
Immediately after the attacks, Bishop Lori called on Catholic Charities to make its counseling service available to individuals and families who suffered from loss and anxiety throughout the diocese. He also established the Catholic Charities Disaster Relief Fund to assist those who lost members of their immediate families as a result of terrorist attacks. Likewise, many parishes created their own outreach.
At a time of great grief and anger, Bishop Lori set the tone for moving forward when he called for justice and a proportionate response in order to prevent further attacks, but also urged against hatred and bigotry.
“Religion is not the principal factor motivating international terrorists. Those knowledgeable of Islam agree that crimes against humanity—such as those we have just witnessed—are categorically opposed to the tenets of Islam and repugnant to the vast majority of Muslims…. Pray that (our leaders) will act with wisdom, justice, courage and prudence in the challenges before us. May the Lord console us in our grief, and in His mercy, may our nation be a beacon of hope and freedom for all the world.”
In the year following the attacks, Bishop Lori established the Annual Diocesan Blue Mass, which is celebrated each year to pray for first responders and celebrate their heroism.