By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
NEW YORK/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Christians around the world were among those remembering the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, but pastors expressed concerns that in New York no clergy-led prayer was included in a ceremony near where the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
On the eve of Sunday’s emotionally charged ceremony at what is still known as “ground zero” some 50 pastors could be seen outside the chain-link fence around the site.
Singing the famous Christian traditional “Amazing Grace” and carrying Bibles they knelt down and prayed as part of an alternative ceremony. Pastors said they wanted to show their dismay over New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to include public prayer during the official, September 11, gathering.
Bloomberg defended his decision, despite receiving a petition signed by 62,000 Americans asking him to allow formal public prayer at the city’s 9/11 memorial ceremony.
The mayor said it would be impossible to include all the religious leaders who would like to participate. His office added in a statement however that the ceremony would include readings that are “spiritual and personal in nature” and that there would be six minutes of silence for personal reflection or “silent prayer.”
United States President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush were among those attending ceremonies, remembering the 3,000 people who died after Islamic terrorists hijacked four airplanes and turned them into weapons.
City officials said they keen to avoid the religious conflicts that have flared around ground zero, where most people died, in recent years.
However churches point out they donated tons of supplies for relief workers, and an Episcopal congregation allowed rescue workers to operate out of St. Paul’s Chapel for months.
Clergy performed thousands of funerals and dozens of memorial services, including an interfaith ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Individual church members pitched in to help feed and support the families of the dead.
Fernando Cabrera, a New York City councilman and pastor of a church in the Bronx, told Reuters news agency he had collected 100,000 names for a petition asking for a formal prayer. “The American public wants prayer at this event,” Cabrera reportedly said. “They could have had different faiths offering prayer, and it would have been a beautiful message to send to the world.”
Yet, some leading evangelicals have defended Bloomberg’s decision.
“In the past, I found myself in total disagreement with Mayor Bloomberg on many issues” especially “his support of the building of the Cordoba Mosque at Ground Zero,” said well-known pastor Michael Youssef.
However, the way I and many other faithful Christians see [his decision not to include formal prayer in the 9/11 ceremony] is as an act of mercy – sparing us the spectacle of bundling all religions together as if they are worshiping one god or as if all these gods are equal,” he added.
“Indeed, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “Prayer for America” memorial service, held 12 days after the 9/11 attacks, was extremely painful for the faithful Christians who watched. It gave the impression that all gods are equal to the one true God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the largest network of evangelicals worldwide said in a separate comment that Christians should however reach-out to those who disagree with them.
“9/11 changed the world for an entire generation…we see fear, profiling and racism,” said Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and secretary general of WEA. “There is a growing acknowledgment within our global evangelical community that we must build bridges of friendship and trust across ethnic, cultural, and religious divides.”
“This is not based upon sociological or political reasons but rather on the example of Christ who broke down barriers and commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves,” he added.
Outside New York, ceremonies were also to be held in Washington, where the Pentagon was hit by a plane, and in Shanksville where United Flight 93 crashed in a field.
The airliner — which had been scheduled to fly to San Francisco from Newark, New Jersey — plunged from the sky amid a struggle between passengers and hijackers over control. All 40 passengers and crew members were killed.
The town of 237 people, transformed the area and many of its residents, prompting a surge of volunteerism, tourism and international media attention, a Reuters reporter observed.
Further away, prayers and other ceremonies were held around the globe, including in Hungary, one of the first countries to suggest NATO military alliance should invoke Article 5.
That Article views an attack against one NATO country as an attack against the whole alliance.
Among the events was a a memorial concert in Budapest’s historical Deak Square Lutheran church in the presence of the occasion’s main patron President Pal Schmitt and political and state leaders, as well as diplomats accredited to Budapest, the Foreign Ministry said.
“Hungary actively participates in efforts directed against international terrorism,” Hungary’s Foreign Ministry said.