9/11 World Trade Center Attack. Flickr

From America… and the World

E-mails, letters, faxes… After September 11th, many friends wrote to us. The American tragedy seen from five continents. Below are some excerpts.

Dearest friends: I am writing to you again to tell you about what is happening here, in such a dramatic moment as this. There was great tumult at school this morning: the news from Washington and New York upset and frightened everyone, and the fact that the telephone lines were down blocked any contact with the East Coast, and it was impossible to communicate with relatives and friends to know if they were all right. As soon as I got to school, Holly came to meet me, her face showing real strain because she had been trying for hours to contact the friends in New York and Washington and couldn’t get a line. She hugged me and said, “You see, Teresa, either the world is in the hands of an Other or we are lost. Pray and offer up this whole day for the persons who are involved in all of this.” I was moved at seeing how she responded to this provocation among the many that God sends us. School was full of people who did nothing but scream and cry, but she, instead, although upset, was conscious of the fact that life goes on in its everyday way, and what happens is a provocation to stay inside this dailiness, not to run away from it. Our first period class was religion, and our teacher, who is a hippy with some strange ideas, weeping, told us that she was unable to understand the reason for this catastrophe but she wanted to say the Our Father with us. After this period, classes were called off and a TV screen was set up in the library so we could follow the news. Then the principal’s office organized a meeting for anyone who wanted to go, in the gym… It was supposed to be a moment of prayer, but instead it was kind of agonizing: a lot of people sitting on the floor around candles, crying, with the strains of Imagine in the background… Somewhat shaken by all of this, Ali, Erica, and I found ourselves forced to judge this situation, and the search for a judgment made us stick together today as never before, as though we had looked each other in the face for the first time. In fact, for a while it had been getting really tiresome to be with each other, because in the grind of life here, it was hard to recognize something positive in the simplicity of the gestures we had to do; everything was becoming a complaint. Instead, what happened made us take our heads out of our navels and launched us again toward doing everything with the awareness that we can always respond to Christ, in any circumstance whatever. Some of our classmates were amazed at the way we were today at school, and one girl asked us why we were acting like this, since, being Italian, the matter shouldn’t have concerned us! This evening the whole community met at Ali’s house to recite the Rosary and read Fr Giussani’s address at the Meeting as a judgment on what happened. We also invited Jill, my “mother” here who is not in the Movement, and she was surprised at the interest we take in what is happening. If the principal gives us permission, we are going to do a flyer at school expressing a judgment, so that what happened may not be in vain but help us to grow. I ask you really to pray, for us and for all those who lost friends and relatives this morning; only God’s mercy can save us.
I hug you one by one.
Teresa, California

I live in the heart of Manhattan, right where the tension has been strongest and most tangible in these past few weeks, because of the presence of the National Guard in the streets, but also because of the faces of hundreds of missing persons still visible on the flyers at every street corner. Walking in the midst of the skyscrapers, we all seem normal, busy as always with the usual things, crowding the sidewalks of this beautiful city. But all you have to do is bump elbows with someone to hear a sincere and moving apology–something unheard of before September 11th–or perceive something unusual to set off a nervous crisis. The fear is great, and mine is even greater. I walk and move about, murmuring a prayer for those truncated lives and another that the Lord may protect me, protect all of us, and may let me live this fear as part of Christ going up on the cross and dying for mankind. I offer up my prayer to sustain the world’s hope. With my friends at the Italian School here in Manhattan, something unexpected and moving happened. In the beginning, we tried to save ourselves from our fear for our children by clinging to each other, in the attempt to be more aware and to avoid the risks that this moment in history forces us to live. We would alarm each other about the contaminated water supply, infected hamburgers, anthrax, bombs in the subway. I was with them more and more, no different from them. But what did my rush of affection and love for them have to do with the task I have acknowledged and accepted–to build His people here, now? “In the same way, in all these months You have mortified me so that I might make the word ‘my Jesus,’ ‘my Lord’ become ever more true. Because if the Lord were not mine, then He would no longer be anyone’s,” Fr Giussani said to us in his greetings at the Meeting. I had to start out from the Event, and to follow a man and a human locus where I am looked at in accordance with the truth about myself. It is something physical, like the smiling face of Fr Giussani wearing an I Love NY hat, the first thing that strikes my eye as I open the door to our CL headquarters in Manhattan. I want to obey this locus and share it with my friends, thanks to the tools suggested by the Movement, thanks to what reality dictates to me as I stand in relation to each of them (reciting the Rosary with the ones who are Catholic, keeping the children for whoever is weakest, reading about politics with those who understand it best). Among the five or six of us, a new way of relating to each other has arisen because of our daily sharing, help, and support; because of our love for our children; and because of the call that my life is to the destiny for which we live and the reason why we are in the world.
Letizia, New York

I have been inviting the Holy Spirit to come and to come through Mary in these days. This is a challenging proposition in some ways and extremely liberating in other ways. I now understand better Father Giussani’s sense of mercy as an invitation (through my human freedom) to invite the Holy Spirit into my life, to help me with eyes of Faith that can better recognize the Presence in reality. But it is this Mystery of the Flesh that came through Mary our mother! What a great mother we have! It is through her “yes” that we have been redeemed. I am daily in awe of the power of that “yes” and the way that I too share in that Mystery.
Noah, Mark, and Luke and Mariah and I send our love.
Michael, Evansville

Dear Traces: My name is Catherine. I am 15 years old and I go to Tottenville High School in Staten Island. This year has been not only a wonderful year but a tragic one. Never in CL life has Staten Island had so much participation in everything. Our vacations have been pretty large (not to mention fun) and we have been doing so much over the summer till now. We also decided to do something for the younger kids: we go on hikes with them and have parties together on gym nights which aren’t like normal parties–we play games and there’s a certain bond that brings us together. We have also brought many new faces into the CL community. We used to have 5 people at our meetings; now sometimes there’s about 20 kids who come, its Great! It has been a great year...

September 11, 2001, around 8:45am, we heard a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Later I heard the second plane had crashed. The whole world was in terror and so was my whole school. Kids, parents, teachers, everyone was crying. Many people lost people. Even if they weren’t family, everyone in Staten Island knew someone who was hurt or killed or lost. Right away we had a meeting. Fr Rich and Dino prayed the rosary with us, and then we went over something Msgr Albacete sent to us. He said that with all this hate going on, we tend to hate the one who did this, but that’s not what this is about. Instead of showing such hate we should get into the world and show people we need Christ in our lives. At one of our meetings, Dino and Fr Rich had said that this is the time to show everyone what we have experienced through Christ. We need Him in our lives. So many of the kids have taken it upon themselves to start School of Communities in their own schools or to invite kids to ours. I hope the people of America realize the true love within us all. I hope we can unite everyone with Christ during these sad times. It’s hard but we can do it! I believe…
Catherine, Staten Island, NY

This seems to be the most fashionable slogan in London: keep on working. Analysts in the City are worried about the markets and simply cannot imagine that maybe we should be concerned about something more serious. In the meantime, telephone lists are circulating in the schools with the numbers to call and with information on how to act in case of a city-wide alert, and this shows that the situation is truly serious. It is striking to see articles and calls to spirituality and religion in the newspapers, even if some jokers ask who will collect the royalties on the Bible, which is the best-selling book these days. However, in many offices there are lots of people wondering what is happening, and certain questions that before were censured can now be asked openly, because “there is a need for meaning.” Even the churches are more crowded with people who “find those five minutes that before they could never find to say a prayer.” And too, London is a Babel of races and languages, so it is a common occurrence to be seated in the subway next to a Muslim calmly reading his Arabic newspaper, and you would like to ask him which side he is on. But this is one of the reasons why Blair continues to reiterate that this is not a war against Islam, because if it were, in England civil war would break out.
Ettore, London

Everything seems apparently normal after the initial shock. This is due both to the distance from the places where it happened, and to the Buddhist tradition, which people consider to be a peaceful religion, whose history has no place for wars or acts done in the name of religion. Islam itself seems to be little known. And yet, if there indeed was a mobilization, it came precisely from a large Buddhist association present in Taiwan and all over the world, which sent volunteers to the site of the tragedy as well as material aid. While politically Taiwan’s support for America is clear, the repercussions on the population were mainly economic. People are worried about the uncertainty of the stock markets and the rise in unemployment. Even the recent events of the current war are reported without any particular emphasis, on the same level as other news. What seems to be missing is any real commitment to understanding reality or any real search for the underlying reasons that brought about this situation.
Andrea, Taipei

When, a few days ago, the CDU Deputy Martin Hohmann dared to state publicly that we should not translate “Allah” as “God,” because the Allah of the Koran has nothing to do with the One and Triune God of the Christians, there was a real hue and cry. Hohmann’s statements were condemned by political leaders as irresponsible, offensive, primitive, and simplistic, just to mention the nicer things that were said. In Germany at the moment, Islam is a sort of “sacred cow,” and the Hohmann case is emblematic in this sense; in dealing with Islam, it is absolutely necessary to be politically correct. Immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, a kind of “hunt for Muslims” ensued in Germany, where three and a half million of them live. Chancellor Schröder immediately summoned the heads of the major religions to Berlin, to the Chancellery, to let them know that a clear distinction will be maintained between Islam and the terrorism of Islamic extremists. The Bishop of Aachen, Mussinghoff, rushed to the nearest mosque to take part in the Islamic Day of Prayer on Friday and to take a message of peace and dialogue to the Muslim “brothers in the faith.” The newspapers contain extensive reports on Muslim women, who are now viewed with suspicion in the streets or treated with open hostility. And yet, behind the façade of an irenic interfaith embrace, fear and insecurity are growing. Bookstores report record sales of the Koran. The federal government immediately cancelled the so-called “religious privilege,” a law that until that moment had protected religious associations from state controls and interference. The secret services are going through Islamic associations in Germany with a fine-tooth comb. Of the three and a half million Muslims, thirty thousand belong to Islamic groups that are considered extremist by the secret services and thus potentially violent. But above and beyond the efforts to provide security, some authoritative voices are being raised about the problem of the truth of our civilization. The philosopher Habermas, who received the “Peace Prize” awarded by the association of German publishers in Frankfurt on October 14th, stated in his speech for the occasion that man’s recognition that he is a creature in the image and likeness of God constitutes a fundamental condition for freedom even in a secularized society and for the progress of a world that wants to be “a secularization that does not destroy.” The boundary line does not pass, according to Habermas, between Islam and Christianity, but between a secularization that destroys and the true freedom of the creature made in the image and likeness of God.
Guido Horst, Würzburg

The situation in Australia is confused. Our government is one of the five that promised military support, and yet the boats of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan do not receive permission to enter Australian ports. There are acts of violence to mosques and Islamic schools. The extreme positions adopted by both sides–“Islam against the infidels” and “Good against Evil”–foster conflict and do not construct peace. The hardest challenge raised by these events is that of simply watching them, observing the confusion, hatred, and pain, without refusing anything and without withdrawing into indifference. My first response to the events has to be recognizing that I am powerless to do anything about the reality of the world. It is clear that, alone, we cannot do anything. But this is the position of every person when faced with evil and the destructive use of freedom. All the attempts to solve the problems of human coexistence which forget or exclude the original human entreaty for healing and mercy are destined to fail. This starts from each of us, because while we ask our political leaders to resolve their differences and build the peace, we, in our life circumstances, are participators in the discord, injustice, and violence. It is my heart that must change.
John, Perth

A month after the tragic events of New York, Lithuanians seem to have overcome the initial bewilderment that possessed them in the month of September. After the terrorist attack on the United States, there were some signs of panic from people who, as an office worker recounted, went to the bank to withdraw all their savings, or stocked up on sugar and salt. This happened mainly in the Lithuanian countryside, particularly in the area around the nuclear power plant of Ignalina, in eastern Lithuania on the Russian border, which was thought to be a possible target of international terrorism. But, as the days passed, this ferment died down and people went back to their daily routine, perceiving the conflict as very far away from them and something that would not involve their country at all. City life goes on as before, and no special security measures have been adopted, not even around the embassies of the countries directly involved. Concerning the United States’ military response, the people and the local press–which recently has limited itself to brief reports on what is happening in Afghanistan–manifest two positions: the indifference of most people, resulting from their perception of the conflict as being far away, is opposed to a certain amount of hostility toward the American initiative, that is seen as out of proportion to what happened on September 11th and will not resolve anything. There are those who do not agree with the Lithuanian government’s decision to make its air space available for military operations. The press also takes similar positions. At any rate, in Lithuania, as in the rest of the world, a major concern is the danger of germ warfare. In this sense, here too there was no lack of those who tried to create confusion by making anonymous telephone calls indicating the presence of bombs in the nerve centers of the capital or mailing suspicious letters that then turned out to be stupid hoaxes. In the meantime, some people refused to open their mail. Nonetheless, the need is also felt for a judgment that involves one’s own life, that helps one to put his responsibility on the line. For us and our friends, a valuable tool in this sense was the Traces Editorial, “America,” which we translated and circulated. The director of the publishing house of the Lithuanian Episcopal Conference, who had read it the day before the Catholic monthly Sandora (Covenant) was due to be printed, decided to publish it as their own Editorial on the magazine’s first page. The text also appeared in a secular-oriented newspaper, Lietuvos Aidas. A good many people thanked us for having given them such a clear judgment to read.
Liana and Dolly, Vilnius

In Uganda, most people responded to what happened with indifference. Each person goes on about his own business, because in any case the critical situation is far away. Some lived the attack as though it were a film, a fantastic story that has no relationship with their lives. Here people are too used to war; the street children tell people to call them Bin Laden, so as to feel strong and important. A few people even started selling photographs of Bin Laden, and they had lots of purchasers. Then they quit because they were arrested. The situation is serious precisely because people do not realize the gravity of the situation; even in front of the images of New York, many gave a look at the television screen and then kept chatting among themselves as though nothing had happened, a sign that most people did not feel even a shiver, an emotion at the fact that people are killed. There have always been Muslims in Uganda, and coexistence was not always easy. In recent years a group has formed called “Tablik” or “Militant Muslims.” If they succeed in setting off bombs in public places, they even receive $1,200. This has created tension and suspicion in the whole city.
Rose and Kizito, Kampala

The terrible attack last September 11th in the United States horrified Brazil too. From the outset, following the directives of the Movement, our communities organized gestures of prayer and meditation on the proposed texts (Fr Giussani’s greetings at the Meeting and, later, the Traces Editorial). Brazil boasts a rich tradition of tolerance among the various religions present here, including Islam, due to the great mixture of races and religious traditions which have grown up peaceably over time. For this reason, immediately after the attack, numerous unitary demonstrations for world peace were organized by Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, with the participation of the highest representatives of each religious creed. As far as Islam is concerned, the general population is indifferent both to the religion as such (there are too many rules…) and to what happens to Catholics and non-Catholics wherever the majority is Muslim (the genocide in recent years of Catholics in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony with strong ties to Brazil, which was met with almost total indifference by the media and local public opinion, is the most blatant example). The position of the government is firm condemnation of terrorism and collaboration with the United States and the other countries involved in confronting it, a collaboration that offers not military support but investigation and information. Among part of the population, however, a certain amount of anti-Americanism is widespread (“After all, they deserve it or at least have helped create it!”), which is present also among Catholics (especially those close to liberation theology). Reading and working on the texts indicated to us enabled us to “come out from under” the ideological position that characterizes national debate today (whether the war is just or not) and also to confront this anti-American feeling, helping us to discover once again that the heart of everything is the Event of salvation, which is the encounter with Christ, an Event that redeems man and his great limitation: original sin. For us now, it is clearer that the claim that an operative choice, a human activity (albeit a dramatic one like waging or not waging war) can resolve my human problem and the world’s problem (even of terrorism) is an ideological and utopian position. And this is what we are telling our friends, wherever we are.
Marco, St Paul

In France, the attack on the United States had immediate repercussions on people’s lives. In fact, this country, where some five or six million Muslims live, has already been the target of recent attacks, carried out by Islamic terrorists. The authorities, to calm down the atmosphere, intervened immediately, duly distinguishing between Muslims and Islamic fundamentalists. At the same time, however, they reinforced the National Security Plan, which incidentally had never been lifted after the 1996 attacks. What struck me most in the days following was a sensation of emptiness–whether in the Metro, used every day by about six million people, or in people’s eyes. Only the flourishing more or less everywhere of religious, ecumenical, interfaith celebrations helped partly to fill this void. Indeed, in Paris, no religious event went on without the presence of the highest government authorities, setting aside their usual secular aplomb. Cardinal Lustiger, during Mass the day after the attack, rendered a very clear judgment on what happened. He stated in his homily, among other things, that the term “martyr” could not be applied to someone who incinerated the life of other persons, but that “the martyr is a person who gives his own life for the good of others.” At any rate, the efforts to reassure and reduce the impact of the tragic events were largely vain. People are frightened, but do not want to show it; especially in Paris, because we know that there can be other attacks. In many outlying areas of the big cities, where the police have not entered for years, people are waiting for a signal. The police know this, just as they know that if something happened, they would not be able to defend the entire national territory. While on one hand the French government, a bastion of citizens’ liberty, assumes the role of firefighter to inspire trust in the institutions, on the other the tragic events reveal how clearly ideological its response is. For example, some weeks ago, a soccer game between France and Algeria had been organized to ratify the renewed friendship between the two countries. Not only could the game not be played to the end because of the invasion of the field by fans who were certainly not French, but already during the first notes of the French national anthem, the stadium was filled with whistling and booing. As if that were not enough, two days after this affront from the people from the slums, the Socialist government, which had sponsored the event, came up with the idea of responding to it by having the minister of public education, Jack Lang, announce that the schools, from kindergarten through high school, will be required to have the students sing the national anthem at least once a week.
Silvio, Paris

Here, America’s tragedy was “reabsorbed” almost immediately. After two days, the newspapers slid it onto inside pages; the students at the university do not talk about it, or they limit themselves to superficial comments like, “After all, the Americans might even have expected it, with everything they have done…” This indifference is of the same nature as the resigned positivity with which many of them view their future. It is as though the “I” were missing: the drama of the question, “Who is man, that Thou are mindful of him?” is lacking.
Elena, Moscow