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More 'Ground Zeroes?'

BY DANIEL YEE | NEW YORK CITY | September 11, 2002

"We did what comes naturally to human beings ... we turned to God and we sought out each other."

—Bishop Stephen P. Bouman

"Think of the 'Ground Zeros' we have missed and those we have yet to address."

The thoughts of this New York religious leader echoed in many minds Wednesday as the U.S. remembered and prayed.

Even as federal officials stepped up terrorism warnings, New York City's religious leaders gathered to remember the lives lost during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to honor disaster responders.

Leaders from various faiths, including Christian, Jewish and Islam, joined in prayers and song at the Interchurch Center, located near Columbia University.

A year ago, immediately after Sept. 11, religious groups from many faiths gathered at the Interchurch Center to pray for the missing.

"We did what comes naturally to human beings ... we turned to God and we sought out each other," said Bishop Stephen P. Bouman of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "Imams, priests, rabbis and ministers gathered in this place and gave a collective primal scream to God.

"I will never forget the shock of the names hurled at God through clenched teeth and strangled voices."

And one year after the Sept. 11 attacks, the message from the leaders was to not lose the "window of opportunity for the global community" that the Sept. 11 tragedy created in joining together those of different thoughts and beliefs.

"Let us get back in touch with those spiritual moments of solidarity," Bouman said. "What kind of world do we want? Will we drift back into our narrow concerns and horizons?

"We must find a way of ... building relationships."

The leaders stressed love and understanding, not revenge.

"We seem to be experiencing the 'Winds of War,' should we make war on Iraq," said Archdeacon Michael Kendall of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

"We each have our traditions. The God who made us reminds us that we are not God, we are God's children. "If we can realize that, we might just find ways to [form] the bond of Love between us."

Rabbi Robert Levine of the Synagogue of Rodelph Sholom said the people who crashed the airplanes into the World Trade Center's twin towers mistakenly saw only one religious group. Instead, he explained, the towers contained "the very panoply of pluralism" -- all different races and ethnic groups that make up America.

"We have seen one year ago ultimate evil," Levine said. "But we also have seen ultimate goodness. It is in our capacity as God's children to choose the course upon which we will walk."

In addition, the religious leaders stressed that "Ground Zero" means much more than its traditional definition encompassing the former site of the World Trade Center complex.

"Ground Zero is the whole metropolis," Bouman said. "They say Ground Zero is 60 feet deep and 60 miles wide. We have all been broken, wounded and filled with tears.

"Think of the 'Ground Zeros' we have missed and those we have yet to address."

Neighborhoods, for example, need more money for schools than jails.

Individuals suffer under the scrutiny of suspicion and racial profiling, the leaders said.

"Will you work with us to rebuild the whole community?" Bouman asked the city leaders present at the service. "We're serious about rebuilding."

Efforts to join communities in New York began well before the terrorist attacks. For example, a unity task force of religious leaders in Brooklyn helped reduce violence in neighborhoods that was spurred by the escalation of violence in the Middle East.

"Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders and city officials drastically reduced violence," Bouman said. "The window was open here in New York before Sept. 11.

"We are all minorities here in New york; we must encounter one another in real frank and open dialogue and embrace the best traditions of one another."

The leaders also sought to give thanks to several disaster response groups that helped provide funding, counseling and leadership to communities affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lutheran Disaster Response of New York, New York Disaster Response Interfaith Task Force, Queens Federation of Churches and the United Methodist Committee on Relief were among the organizations honored.

"It's a time to give thanks to those who worked very hard to support the victims of the World Trade Center and Sept. 11," said Rev. Lyssette Perez-Salgado of the United Methodist Latin American Office. "Through these agencies and all the work done together we find the answer to the question of 'Where is God?'

"God is working through us."

In addition, the audience gave Dan Nigro, former Fire Chief of the New York City Fire Department who retired on Sept. 9, a standing ovation for his leadership and firefighters' efforts during the attacks.

"We are so grateful for all the public servants who gave their lives a year ago and those who risk their lives today," said Bishop Ernest Lyght of the United Methodist New York Conference.

People should remember not the media images of the twin towers collapsing but "the innocent people in the buildings doing God's work and the rescuers," Nigro said.

Participants in the service included the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York; the Council of Churches of the City of New York; New York Board of Rabbis; Imam's Council of Metropolitan New York; The Episcopal Diocese of New York; the Greek Archdiocese of America; the United Methodist Church New York Annual Conference; and the Korean Council of Churches.

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