Beliefnet
New York, Sept. 13, 2001--"You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." The words from Colossians hover in the stillness of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, as Mass is said the day after terrorist attacks claimed thousands of souls. For it is souls that concern the city's religious leaders, spiritual counselors, and ordinary believers: the souls of the dead, the souls of the grieving, and their own bruised souls.

Massgoers file slowly out of the church, stopping to pluck votive candles from cartons stacked up by church workers unable to stay ahead of demand. On the steps of the cathedral, Helen Donnelly, a visitor from Ireland, admits that she holds out no hope of rescue for those buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center. "I know they are gone to heaven. But our prayers may help their loved ones heal a little quicker."

All across the city, New Yorkers of every faith are struggling to bear the unbearable, struggling for a glimpse of God through the acrid smoke and dust. Notes with scrawled prayers are tacked above the flowers and candles at local fire stations. A Mass card notifies passersby that a service will be offered for the repose of the soul of a fireman confirmed dead. Posters for special church services and prayer vigils are taped to telephone booths. On one sidewalk, a Jehovah's Witness hands out literature with the red headline "Is there a devil?"

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At one of the city's mosques, a Muslim woman describes the tears that flowed when she first heard of the tragedy. "We pray for our brothers and sisters--we have to ask God to help their families." Across the street, a dozen parents mill anxiously outside a local elementary school. They have organized to ask the police precinct for more protection for the mosque. Friday is Islam's special day of prayer, and the parents fear for their children's safety--and that of Muslim worshippers. "National Guardsmen should be here," says one mother. But it's not just about security: "I don't want my daughter exposed to bigotry in any way." (So far, the mosque has received no threats or harassing calls.)

One mother says she let her children watch news coverage of the terrorist attacks only one time, worried at the repetition of gruesome scenes and words like "cadaver." "Then, for once," she says, "I let them watch cartoons as long as they wanted. Thank goodness for Nickelodeon." She says that she often sees women in hijab taking their children to the park near her house in the Bronx. "But they weren't there today."

Samuel Kirschner, who leads meditation workshops, says during times like these he focuses on breathing exercises and being in the present--however grim that present may be. On Thursday morning, a half hour before Grand Central Station was closed due to a bomb threat, he made his way through the busy terminal on his way to find out how to offer counseling to others. "There is a place in us connected to peace," he says. He hopes to open his house on the Lower East Side to those seeking spiritual solace.
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