Monday, September 12, 2011
Father Luis A. Rivero - Archdiocese of Miami
We just marked the 10th anniversary of that tragic 11th of September in 2001. I am sure that you well recall where you were and what you were doing that day. Perhaps you were on your way to work, back from dropping the kids off at school or enjoying a cup of coffee. Perhaps you had already begun your day hours prior and were in the midst of the daily “busy-ness.”
I can recall vividly, as if it were yesterday, how we were on our way to our second period class on Introduction to Roman Catholicism at St. John Vianney College Seminary when we were interrupted and distracted with the first American Airlines flight to collide with the World Trade Center. The fear that crept into our homes and workplaces was very much palpable.
As I write this blog I happen to be in New York City enjoying a time of rest and relaxation. I thought it would be fitting to visit the site to experience once again the tragedy and hope that has emerged from there. While on the way, I was blending in with every New Yorker who lives and works in the city by reading a book on the subway. (If you have ever traveled on the New York subway system you know that for the most part everyone minds their own business and you rarely speak to another person, unless it is someone you know or a mendicant asking for spare change.)
I have been on the subway system many times and never had a conversation with a perfect stranger, until today. On my way to the World Trade Center, Sandi interrupted my reading. She politely asked if I was a priest. I said yes. She then said that she used to be a nominal Catholic. My curiosity was peaked and I encouraged her to expound. She went on to recount her story. (Remember, all she knew was that I was a priest. She did not know my destination or my motive for going there.)
Sandi went on to share how she used to work at the World Trade Center. She worked in the second tower that was hit. On that tragic day she was already in the elevator on her way to work when all of a sudden she and the other passengers dropped. Upon reaching the ground floor, firefighters pried open the elevator doors and escorted them outside. Sandi said at first she did not know where to go, for the streets were a total chaos. Yet she knew that the Church of St. Peter was nearby. She would often pass it on her way to work without bothering to stop in.
I begged her to continue.
Her eyes tearing up, she recounted how she knew she would be safe in the church. After being there a short while, she saw a group of firemen come in carrying a body. They placed it at the foot of the altar. She was curious as to why they had placed this fireman at the foot of the altar. She got close and saw that it was their chaplain. She learned he was a Catholic priest, Father Mychal Judge.
At this point we were both in tears on the subway in New York City. I had heard the story but never met someone who had witnessed its beauty.
It has been 10 years since that fateful day, a day in which many lost their lives — some at work, others on their way there, many in an attempt to save lives, and the chaplain trying to save souls. As a priest, I could not help but be moved.
You see, my friends, I did not plan to meet Sandi, and I did not plan to speak to anyone on the subway to or from the World Trade Center. I just wanted to be at the site and seek inspiration to write to you. But this most fascinating and unexpected encounter moved me more than I could ever have imagined.
In the midst of destruction and fear, Sandi witnessed beauty, because it was through this event that her faith was reawakened. It was through this event that the Mystery became present once again. It was through my encounter with her on the subway that I can say without a shadow of doubt that the Mystery—namely Christ—showed His face to me. The priest chaplain who was laid at the foot of the altar, carried by those he ministered to, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the very end and beyond. His death moved Sandi to encounter the Risen Christ. In the midst of the circumstances and the chaos of that day, he saved her soul, as she told me.
My friends, this moment of grace on the New York subway—so unexpected, unplanned, unsolicited—is yet another confirmation for me of the Lord’s call to serve Him beyond any borders. An encounter with the Mystery—namely Christ—has no prejudice towards time or space. Rather, He often picks the oddest place and time to show His face. As a priest, I could not help but thank the Lord for once again reminding me of my vocation to preach the Gospel until my dying breath. I could not help but thank Him who time and time again shows me His face in the many circumstances of life and through a variety of ways.
As I visited the Church of St. Peter, near Ground Zero, I fell on my knees before the Most Blessed Sacrament and thanked Him for His love for me. Now, I ask you: Have you ever had such an experience of encountering the Mystery?