Praying for unity ahead of 9/11 anniversary

Nancy Ahluwalia sat on a bench outside St. Paul's Chapel across from the World Trade Center, where cranes towered over the site, her Bible open on her lap.

"I wanted to come and pay my respects," Ahluwalia, 30, said of her decision to visit the chapel this past week. "I was looking for the story of Joseph in the Bible — the one who got sold by his brothers. He knew at the end of the day it was God's will. It was my way of relating to 9/11 and the negative effects of it."

Around the country, the faithful will be reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and looking to their spiritual leaders for guidance on how to commemorate in prayer what is already heavily laden with grief and symbolism.

Religious leaders have been calling on their congregations to reflect on forgiveness, coexistence with other faiths and unity as a nation, while emphasizing the need to remember the 3,000 people who lost their lives when terrorists hijacked jetliners on Sept. 11, 2001.

At the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, a special ceremony for Sept. 11 victims on Sunday will seek to illustrate how far-reaching the attacks were. In Denver, parishioners of Park Hill United Methodist Church will gather outside singing a hymn and link arms in a U-shape around the historic building in what one organizer called a "human link of love."

The mostly 30- and 40-something members of an evangelical Christian church that didn't even exist 10 years ago in Denver will be asked to reflect about the role a crisis can play in changing people's lives and what factors can make that transformation either positive or negative.

"9/11 united all of us as a nation. We believe as a church that we can be redeemed and that (each person's) story can be restored into something that's much better than it was before," said Nanci Ricks, associate pastor of Restoration Community Church.

Across New York City, the 9/11 anniversary was being commemorated in mosques, churches and synagogues.

The Archdiocese of New York called on its clergy to focus on readings of forgiveness.

The Rev Kevin Madigan, pastor of St. Peter Roman Catholic Church, just a block from the trade center site, said he would challenge the faithful to seriously consider the word. Although "nothing justified the attack," he said, one of the first steps to forgiveness is self-reflection.

"We have to examine ourselves to see where we bear some responsibility," he said.

On Friday night, steps from ground zero, Trinity Church staged a memorial concert with choirs from sites linked to the terror attacks: Washington, Pennsylvania, Boston and New York.

"It is not enough to remember, we must remember to love," Trinity's vicar, the Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee, told a packed church, with spectators overflowing onto Broadway.

They joined in singing "Amazing Grace" with the vocalists, in a program that included parts of requiem Masses for the dead with a world-class orchestra and soloists. Outside, New Yorkers and their families strolled around in the balmy, peaceful summer night, some even bringing their pets to join the gatherings that will culminate in Sunday's 9/11 tribute ceremony.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein said he will strike two themes this weekend — of how Americans' lives have "changed irrevocably" and that the attacks were "the most horrendous assault" on the relationship among human beings.

"The best response is for each of us to try as hard we can to love our fellow human beings as an antidote to the hate that was manifested on 9/11," he said.

At the Islamic Cultural Center of New York on Friday, Imam Shamsi Ali called on the hundreds of Muslims gathered at the large Manhattan mosque to be ambassadors of their faith and to engage their fellow Americans as neighbors.

Ali said he would repeat that message throughout the weekend as he spoke to different congregations. "Muslims must be the ambassadors of their faith. They need to represent their faith in the society," Ali said. "And that starts with engaging with society."

After listening, Kevin Kareem said he wanted to hear religious leaders speak about what unites people of different faiths because "evil exists everywhere."

"9/11 should be something that talks about the idea of evil — not about any particular religion," said the 50-year-old Muslim from Harlem. "We have to stop demonizing one another. We have to do what Prophet Mohammed said: Find a common ground."



Trinity Church 9/11 concert:


Associated Press writers Colleen Slevin in Denver and Rachel D'Oro in Anchorage, Alaska, and Verena Dobnik in New York contributed to this report.