August 25th, 2011
07:48 PM ET
By, Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN)– As the city of New York prepares to remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11, religious leaders are raising concerns over the lack of clergy participating in the anniversary events.
"Utterly disappointed and surprised," Fernado Cabrera a New York City councilman and the pastor of New Life Outreach International church in the Bronx, said over the decision not to include any clergy in the ceremony.
"There's certain things that government cannot do, and answering questions of meaning of 'Why are we going through this?' and 'Where am I going to get strength from?' - those are existential questions that can only be answered from a spiritual aspect," Cabrera said.
"I'm telling you I saw it first hand, the power of prayer," he added of his time at ground zero on September 11, 2001.
Cabrera said he reached out to the mayor's office and was told there would be no prayer in this year's ceremony.
He has started a petition on Facebook to change that.
"The ceremony was designed in coordination with 9/11 families with a mixture of readings that are spiritual, historical and personal in nature," Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said in an e-mail to CNN.
"It has been widely supported for the past 10 years and rather than have disagreements over which religious leaders participate we would like to keep the focus of our commemoration ceremony on the family members of those who died."
The exclusion of clergy was first widely reported by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
Bill Donahue of the Catholic League rejected the mayor's office explanation of potential religious infighting over who would get to pray, saying the issue is sorted out all the time for presidential inaugurations and other major events.
"What [the mayor] did is what he often does, which is to make autocratic decisions," Donahue said. "I don't think this is something that will sit well with New Yorkers and the biggest mistake Bloomberg has made is he's given us three weeks."
On July 29 Bloomberg spoke about the ceremony during his weekly radio show. He announced that President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush would both be attending and participating, as well as other politicians and elected officials.
"This cannot be political," Bloomberg told the radio audience. "That's why there's a poem or a quote or something that each one of the readers will read." He added there would be "no speeches whatsoever."
While he was talking about which officials would attend, he noted, "There's an awful lot of people that would like to participate but you just can't do that, once you open it up. So the argument here is it's elected officials and those who were there at the time and had some influence."
There have been 10 ceremonies at ground zero in New York to pause and remember the events of 9/11, one six months after the attack and on September 11 each following year.
Spirituality and religion have been reserved for the moments of silence in those events.
In past ceremonies, four moments of silence were observed to mark when each tower was struck and when each tower fell.
For this year's ceremony, organizers added two additional moments of silence to recognize the strike on the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
"This year's six moments of silence allow every individual a time for personal and religious introspection," Erskine said.
Throughout the city there will be other prayer events leading up to September 11.
In particular, the New York Police Department will be hosting its own ceremony, which will include prayers, at Lincoln Center on September 8.
The event is scheduled to include Rabbi Alvin Kass, the chief of chaplains for the NYPD; Cardinal Edward Egan, the Archbishop emeritus of New York; and the mayor.
But Donahue and Cabrera said because this is the 10th anniversary, there should be clergy and prayer in the 9/11 ceremony to reflect the contribution faith, religion, and spirituality played in the recovery.
"This is not a message of unity when you begin to exclude people who were crucial in the turnaround moment that we needed," Cabrera said.
Donahue said he hoped the mayor would reconsider and invite clergy to participate.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.