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.

"I know they are gone to heaven. But our prayers may help their loved ones heal a little quicker."


With some subways closed south of Grand Central, many people are making their way down Park Avenue to offices and homes on foot. Several stop for water, free bagels, or just quiet time a few blocks south of the station at the Church of Our Saviour. Father Patrick Hennessy set up the refreshment tables at noon on Tuesday, when all city subways were closed. The Catholic church also offers passersby the opportunity to write down the names of loved ones in a book of intercessions on the sidewalk. The book is filling up fast.


A young man dressed in black with a mohawk dyed red and several claw earrings hurries down the street, late for work. Asked if God exists, he answers, "Probably not." So how do you get through things like this? "You walk really fast."

Later that morning, 48 hours after the blast, leaders of nearly every Muslim group in the city react to the attacks with horror and revulsion at a press conference at the Interfaith Center of New York. "Kill not a life that Allah has made sacred," says Naim Beig of the Islamic Circle of North America, quoting the Qur'an. He has received no word about his friend, lost at the World Trade Center; his 11th-grade daughter is afraid to go outside in hijab.

"McVeigh was raised a Roman Catholic. But when his identity was revealed no one blamed the Catholic Church for his sins."


Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid speaks of the backlash against Muslims and the alleged beating of a Muslim woman in Cleveland, citing the example of Timothy McVeigh. "McVeigh was raised a Roman Catholic. But when his identity was revealed, no one blamed the Catholic Church for his sins. No one vilified a faith or its adherents for the deeds of a minority."

One member of the interfaith panel is not so easily placated. Rabbi David Lincoln of the Park Avenue Synagogue speaks of his childhood in England: "I come from a family that greatly respects Islam," he says, remembering how his father preferred to hire Muslims for his company. "Now I need someone to explain to me how Islam teaches... that there should be dancing in the streets" in Palestine. As a Hindu leader shifts uneasily and a Buddhist monk fingers prayer beads behind him, the rabbi raises his voice. "Please explain this so I can have a renewed respect for Islam," he almost shouts. He leaves the room immediately afterward.

Dr. Faiz Khan, a Muslim of Arab descent and emergency-room doctor in New York City, is quick to respond that "there is no authentic way of life that is based on submitting and humility that allows indiscriminate slaughter." Just arrived from helping victims, and still dressed in green medical "scrubs," Dr. Khan addresses the audience. "This has nothing to do with religion; this has nothing to do with Islam. It has everything to do with politics."

Nearby, Ismail Momeni, the owner of a carpet store, removed the large "Pamir Afghan Import Co." sign on his shop, fearing retaliation against Arab businesses. He said that when his mother heard of the explosions and deaths, she was too upset to sleep. "I was telling her, please Mother, go to sleep--I was telling her to calm down." Of the dead, their loved ones, and the rescuers, he says, "God bless them. All religions should work together to save [the victims]."

"God mourns with us like a parent who mourns when their children are fighting."

Earlier at the Church of Our Saviour, Fr. Hennessy described the Bible readings chosen for "times of war and civil disturbance." On Tuesday, churchgoers at Our Saviour heard texts from the book of Lamentations, along with a gospel reading in which Jesus, crying from the cross, quotes from Psalm 22--"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Fr. Hennessy explains, "It's a cry of anguish, but the psalm is ultimately one of trust." He is called away for a moment as a new bomb threat is announced at a building near the church.

Like most Christian leaders, Fr. Hennessy does not stress turning the other cheek just yet. "I believe that part of the proper response to all this sadness and craziness and evil is not to jump right away to reconciliation and forgiveness--although those are very appropriate readings and we did some of them at some of the other masses. I think sitting in silence and lamenting, being sad, is a very appropriate religious response. Experiencing the anguish and knowing that Jesus had that same anguish."

"I believe God mourns with us like a parent who mourns when their children are fighting," Father Hennessy continues. "And there's a whole resurrection ultimately, but you have to go through Good Friday and Holy Saturday first. They sat in silence before the tomb."

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