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9/11 and an encounter with the Mystery

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This is the Memorial Cross on the side of St. Peter's Church that faces Ground Zero. In the niche is a book made of steel plates engraved with the names of those who were born to Eternal Life.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Father Luis Rivero

This is the Memorial Cross on the side of St. Peter's Church that faces Ground Zero. In the niche is a book made of steel plates engraved with the names of those who were born to Eternal Life.

Close-up view of the steel plates engraved with the names of those who died on 9/11.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Father Luis Rivero

Close-up view of the steel plates engraved with the names of those who died on 9/11.

Father Luis Rivero at the Memorial Cross outside St. Peter Church near Ground Zero.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Father Luis Rivero

Father Luis Rivero at the Memorial Cross outside St. Peter Church near Ground Zero.

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. 

The main doors at St. Peter's Church near Ground Zero.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Father Luis Rivero

The main doors at St. Peter's Church near Ground Zero.

St. Peter's Church was also the home of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Pierre Toussaint.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Father Luis Rivero

St. Peter's Church was also the home of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Pierre Toussaint.

A bird's-eye view of what the 9/11 Memorial will look like, found at the 9/11 Visitors Center.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Father Luis Rivero

A bird's-eye view of what the 9/11 Memorial will look like, found at the 9/11 Visitors Center.

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?

Comments from readers

Naydah - 09/15/2011 01:03 PM
P. Luis
Gracias por siempre regalarnos "un despertar en Dios", en sus mensajes. He vivido momentos en mi vida que me han hecho reflexionar sobre la importancia de El en nuestro diario vivir. Todos los dias le pido a Dios por que nos regale mas sacerdotes como usted. Que el Senor siempre le guie para continuar despertando almas y llevarlas al Buen Camino.
Judith Padron - 09/14/2011 01:28 AM
Rev Father Luis Rivero: Thank you so much for sharing this extraordinary experience with us. My heart was trembling the morning of Sept 11 when I was able to see the picture named: "New York says thank you"....................Un documental que muestra a un grupo de Bomberos Voluntarios que se reunen año tras año alrededor de esta fecha para ir en auxilio de alguna "comunidad" o "familias afectadas por algun desastre natural". Son asi parte esencial del proceso de sanacion por las experiencias vividas y a su vez ellos se suman al año siguiente el proyecto de seguir ayudando a reconstruir colmando de Amor de Dios cada lugar que visitan. Quizas Usted tambien tuvo oportunidad de verlo en su computadora.
!Que consuelo para la persona de su historia el dar con un Sacerdote y compartir su propia experiencia! Bendito sea Dios.
In Jesus & Mary
Legion de Maria
Judith Padron
Jorge Mirabent - 09/13/2011 10:33 PM
Thank you Father for sharing such a wonderful experience. I often seek HIS presence in significant events that happen in my life and have come to understand why certain things in my life have occurred in specific ways.

Vivat Jesus
Marjorie. - 09/13/2011 05:51 PM
Woooowwwwww! nos reafirmamos en Fe!
thx, Father.
Andrea T. - 09/13/2011 11:01 AM
Gracias Padre Luis por compartir esta experencia extraordinaria que Dios te regalo. Y mi respuesta es SI, Dios me ha regalado ver su rostro o tal vez mejor seria decir reconocer su presencia a traves de diferentes acontencimientos de mi vida diaria y siempre me sorprende de manera inimaginable. Ojala nunca me deje de sorprender, porque se que si eso pasa, es que habre perdido mi Fe. Que Dios lo bendiga
Mercy Garcia - 09/13/2011 09:59 AM
Thanks so much Father for sharing this wonderful story, and thanks God to send us a priest like you to our community. God Bless You!!
Cristina T. - 09/13/2011 09:04 AM
What a moving and beautiful story! Thanks for sharing this, Fr. Luis!
Cristi - 09/13/2011 05:55 AM
Beautiful story, Father Luis!
Gloria Mendia - 09/12/2011 09:33 PM
Thank you Father Louis for this beautiful story. I thank God that through that moment of Grace you felt the confirmation of the Lord's call to serve Him because I know you will spread His word for many years and to many people as you are doing now in such a beautiful way to the parishioners of St. Agnes.
God bless you always!
Gloria Mendia
Ani - 09/12/2011 07:12 PM
Thank You for sharing such a beautiful story. We Emmaus girls like to call these experiences "Godincidences". You brought tears to my eyes. Isn't it so true that in the least likely of places, when we least expect it, in the most unusual way God chooses to reveal himself to us. And, suddenly, for that slight moment we experience a bit of heaven on earth. Yes, I have had moments like this. I think we all do. We just have to be aware and listening because otherwise they just pass us by...
Maricarmen - 09/12/2011 06:28 PM
Thanks for sharing! I thought of you a lot yesterday while I watched the endless coverage of the Sept. 11 ceremonies. I was very moved by much of what I saw but was sad that while they covered the event from EVERY possible angle (as history, from the viewpoint of firefighters, policemen, women, family members, victims and more), they did not have a spiritual/religious angle. I got that from you! God showed his face endless times on that day and for that I am very grateful. Come home soon!
Leni - 09/12/2011 05:35 PM
Fr. Luis, thank you for starting this blog. I too was brought to tears by your beautiful story. The mystery of Christ is such a gift. Thank you for sharing such a touching story.
Cristina - 09/12/2011 03:45 PM
Thank you for sharing this story with all of us. Reading it brought tears to my eyes, not because of saddens, but rather, I could feel your love through your words. God bless you!
Francisco Alzuru - 09/12/2011 02:03 PM
Extraordinary Fr. Luis. Since my Emmaus retreat twelve years ago, I have learned to see His presence in my life through events such as this one, which occur on a daily basis. To be able to recognize His mistery and His precence in our lives is a gift and a blessing. I thank God you had the opportunity to experience it and I pray that all priests maintain the capacity to be in awe when He touches them. God Bless.
HECTOR GONZALEZ ABREU - 09/12/2011 11:56 AM
At the entrance of Saint Vincent de Paul Church at 2000 NW 103 St.Miami Fl 33147 there was since 2001 a Madonna of Sorrows (gift of barry College) and the bottom support was made from pieces of steel from the Ground Zero at the World Trade Center, New York. It was a gift from NYFD to a parishioner born in Brooklyn.That "relic" of the 2011 American Tragedy could be displayed at the Pastoral Center or any other church.

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