On this somber day, the ninth anniversary of the immoral and brutal September 11th attacks, we remember and pray for the 2,977 victims and their families.
We also remember and pray for the thousands of police, firefighters, EMTs and other emergency workers who selflessly put their lives at risk to rescue their
Reflecting pool at WTC Memorialbrothers and sisters trapped in the Twin Towers. More than four hundred of those first responders made the ultimate sacrifice.
Subsequently, over 50,000 people - at least 10,000 of whom came from across our country - took part in efforts to remove the debris and search for victims' bodies. They continue to live with the painful reminder of that day's horror.
The events of that day, brought about by terrorists to break the will of the American people, instead inspired the nation to come together and face adversity with courage and in a spirit of mutual respect.
In 2001, President Bush said in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress:
"I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends."
However, two wars and nine years later, our country continues to face challenges related to that fateful day, which are emerging from a new breed of partisan politics that is undermining the principles upon which our country was built.
We are witnessing a new bigotry towards Muslims and the Islamic faith being advanced by the ideological Right. The climate is ripe for such political exploitation - a distressed economy and the ensuing uncertainty that people feel, an already divisive political climate that is unprecedented, and opinion polls that show 18% of people believe that President Obama is a Muslim (34% for Republicans).
Statements from divisive partisans like Newt Gingrich seek to take advantage of the delicate situation involving the expansion of an Islamic place of worship in New York. The pastor of an evangelical congregation has threatened to burn the Quran, an act that military and diplomatic leaders have warned would threaten our troops - as well as Catholic and other missionaries - across the globe.
Reflecting pool at WTC MemorialBoth the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned those words and actions meant to intimidate Muslims, which are antithetical to the American spirit and our Catholic faith. Yesterday, Catholic Democrats issued a statement applauding the Vatican and the Bishops for their spiritual leadership, and calling on all Americans to commit to the spirit of the free practice of religion.
We have also seen Republicans block the passage of a bill that would provide needed health care benefits to first responders who are suffering devastating medical problems as a result of inhaling toxins in their rescue and clean-up efforts.
On this day, as we keep the victims and heroes of September 11th in our prayers, we are reminded that we must continue to work for peace, justice and mutual respect. As Catholics and Americans, let us remember the lessons we lived - of strength through hope and charity - in the aftermath of that awful day nearly a decade ago. Warm regards,
Patrick Whelan MD PhD