Our History

Chaplain Comforts Rescuers, Struggles for Answers

Monday, November 19, 2001

A chaplain on ground "consecrated with the dead" touched, helped and comforted rescue workers and rescue dogs. Some workers feared that lack of physical remains, only ash, meant souls would not go to heaven. Some said God didn't--couldn't--exist.

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Where Was Merciful, All-Powerful God in the Midst of the Disaster?

"I soothed them and prayed with them, but I was tentative with answering and suggested that they go to their own priests about these things--as the answers to these questions are so rooted in tradition, especially in the Roman Catholic Church."

And people were seeking answers, especially to questions such as: "How could a moral and all-powerful God allow this to happen?" and "Where was God now in the midst of this disaster?"

Taking a deep breath, Smith recalled her reply: "God was in our midst in the face of tragedy. Did evil overtake us that day? Indeed, evil won, but God suffers with us and you only had to look around at the site to know his presence," she says, her voice clear and strong."

Yet, Smith struggled herself when she was preparing a sermon for the following Sunday.

"My sense was initially that the shock and outrage was so great that there wasn't a clear message to preach," said Smith. She found the answer was to provide accurate information about Islam, in order to inform and reassure their parishes. Yes, she said, religion did play a role in the terror, but she called it a perversion of Islam.

Along with other religious leaders from other faiths, Smith offered prayer at the memorial service at Madison Square Garden in September attended by thousands and representing all denominations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. She recited Psalm 121 that for her means that she had no easy answers to why evil triumphed on Sept. 11, but that God would prevail through love and tolerance and understanding.

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help," she intoned as all joined her in the hope that a deity--regardless of the faith held by those seeking solace--could ease the suffering of those still living.

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Maya Dollarhide is a free-lance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y. She has written for Beliefnet.com, New York magazine, and the Religion News Service. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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