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9/11 Ceremony won't include clergy or formal prayers
Visitors look over Ground Zero. Some religious leaders are upset there will be no formal prayers during the 10th anniversary ceremony.
August 25th, 2011
07:48 PM ET

9/11 Ceremony won't include clergy or formal prayers

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.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 9/11 • Belief

soundoff (1,461 Responses)
  1. RW

    How soon the God haters of today forget. After 9/11 on nearly every street across America all you could see was the American flag, the Cross of Jesus, and countless ribbons of hope. The prayers for strength and forgiveness were abundant. You can remove God from your life your choice. You can never remove God, his Son, or his Spirit from our hearts.
    And yes we pray for the non-believers as well. God Bless

    August 26, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Matt

      I wrote this reply to the wrong person. Oops. Not everyone in America is Christian. What street are you even talking about? Yeah, they had American flags every where. In a lot of places, we still do. But crosses? Please. Stop assuming your perception is the same everywhere else. Especially in places like New York, which have lots of mixed nationalities and beliefs.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • One7777777

      Agreed.

      "Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred"
      Psalm 25:19

      August 26, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • The Guy

      When you die and go to Hades for not worshiping Zeus, I'll laugh.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • tallulah13

      RW: How soon the god-lovers forget. This tragedy took place because of the divisiveness of religion. Perhaps this ceremony, this memorial, should honor the common humanity of the victims and the survivors, instead of their separate and sometimes incompatible religions.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  2. Unbelievable

    And here you now have perfectly illustrated why our civilization is full of so many degenerates. Why are you all so adamant that a mixture of religious representatives not participate for those of us who WOULD appreciate it? Instead, we have to "have a personal moment of silence." I agree with a few others in this hate blog: this is yet another sign of the end of times. Oh well, I'm saying a prayer for all of you, whether you like it or not. 🙂

    August 26, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Matt

      What? Not everyone in America is Christian. What street are you even talking about? Yeah, they had American flags every where. In a lot of places, we still do. But crosses? Please. Stop assuming your perception is the same everywhere else. Especially in places like New York, which have lots of mixed nationalities and beliefs.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • One7777777

      I think the clergy (all religions to represent those lost) should show up with the first responders, and then they should just gently push aside the "politicians" who've done nothing for any of us.

      Let them then lead the ceremony.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Matt

      That was to the reply just after yours. My bad. But still, the services for many shouldn't be catered to the devout. You are free to reflect on your faith in your own way. Why do it in a public service?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Realist

      How awful for you that you are being asked, for a change, to keep your religion to yourself rather than inflicting it upon people who believe differently. It's apparently OK (and EXPECTED) for you to liberally assert and expose your feelings and beliefs on/to others, and some intolerable outrage if you can't .. all in the name of god(tm). What's sad is that I'm confident you don't see the innate arrogance of that view.. which is why if there is a god.. and there is a h*ll.. the lowest rungs of it are undoubtedly saved for those who fail to follow the very teachings they tout.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      ' Instead, we have to "have a personal moment of silence."'
      oh no, not your own personal moment of silence to reflect in the way you would prefer to do so, oh the horror.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Unbelievable

      @ Realist: "liberally assert and expose your feelings and beliefs onto others, and some intolerable outrage if you can't..."
      I'm doing no more and no less than everyone else in this blog. I don't often share my religious beliefs with others for 2 reasons: (1) I am quietly confident in my faith and it IS a personal thing, and (2) most people, including myself, don't want to hear about others' religious feelings and beliefs. That said, my initial concern remains: why are people so adamant that clergy (and first responders, it appears) not be allowed to participate?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Unbelievable

      @ One7777777...I like the way you think.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • The Guy

      @Unbelievable, you're quite obviously incapable of reading (which doesn't surprise me) if you haven't figured out the argument yet.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • tallulah13

      Unbelievable: Sometimes humanity trumps religion. Please remember that religion was the cause of 9/11. A silent moment of reflection allows individuals to pray to the god of their choice. Then the ceremony can get back to the reason for the memorial: the people who were lost. Remember, it's not about you. It's about them.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  3. Guest

    Personally, I couldn't care less whether there are clergy or prayers at the ceremony, but there are some on both sides of the issue who care very deeply. And, as he usually does, Bloomberg decides to susbstutute his judgment and rule by decree rather than have an open and honest discussion about an issue. Sadly, it's an arrogance that happens to most NYC mayors Remember when rudy trie to suspend the election?).

    August 26, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • JoeG

      How is it by decree when the story CLEARLY states that the ceremony was designed with the input and feedback of the 9/11 families??? If the families all agree that no clergy is what they want, then no clergy is what they get – end of story!

      August 26, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  4. Sauce

    Just want to point out that it really doesn't hurt anything to have a few prayers, I'm sure you're all aware that Catholics, Jews, and Muslims all believe in the same God....so its really not too offensive. People should just suck it up, religion plays a huge role in death, it always has been and always will. Have some respect for these people. Pray. If you do not like it...don't listen!

    August 26, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • tallulah13

      Religion caused this disaster.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  5. Eddie E

    Great job Bloomberg! You have shown courage please keep it up.

    August 26, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Judy

      You're a jerk.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Jo

      Please get your head out of your buttocks

      August 26, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  6. George

    They should let the local imam speak. After all it was done in the name of his religion. Maybe he can put a good spin on it.

    August 26, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Rachel

      You're ignorant, like most Americans. The Islam that the imam practices – one of acceptance and love for all – would have him killed by terrorists, who are fundamentalist Muslims.

      Sorry, babe, but Islam didn't take down those towers. Educate yourself before you make blanket statements that show you to be stupid.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  7. Rachel

    I wonder how many people against the official presence of clergy at the anniversary were 1) in NYC when the attacks happened AND 2) did not seek out any type of religious comfort during the tragedy and in the aftermath.

    If you can say yes to both aspects, then you're qualified to say clergy shouldn't be there. If not, shut up already. I'm tired of people who did NOT live through this experience trying to dictate what NYers should do.

    August 26, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Laughing

      Yes, because only people in New York were affected on 9/11, everyone just wishes they had some connection to the 9/11 attacks.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Jo

      Rachel – You are ignorant in many ways and on top of it all, your common sense seems to be absent. Keep it up, we need more dumbs like you in this country so that the other 20% can feed you all.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Praveen

      Jo is the smartest of us and knows all, so let us start praying him/her. Amen.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  8. Praveen

    do we really need child abusers at the memorial service? Next we will ask clerics to read sermons to allah, right? Also please get some cows to pray for the hindus that died. Thanks, I am not attending.

    August 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • Rachel

      People who generalize as you do, generally ascribe to many of the "isms" that plague our society. Glad you won't be there.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Praveen

      Not generalizing. I am citing the practical problem of how you would implement this given the diversity of people who dies. And I can only imagine how this discussion would change course if a muslim cleric is invited to share the dias with the clergy.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Jo

      Praveen – i would recommend you go back to India and partake in the anti-corruption movements where you will be able to get a bunch of cows to moo moo for you. What an idiot.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • The Guy

      Nice racism, @Jo.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  9. sbk

    ummm. the "power of prayer" and religious faith was what caused 9/11 in the first place.

    August 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Donnie

      It is my understanding that the fire department will not be there either. As a volunteer myself I spoke with a few guys up there and it is a real slap in the face. However they were all clear. They said they were not invited the first time and they showed up anyway. Therefore invited or not this time they will show up anyway.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • One7777777

      That would have been for the worship of the fallen one, not God

      August 26, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Jo

      What God Hitler was praying to?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  10. stevie68a

    Religion is divisive. I'm glad there won't be any prayers. Would you really want someone to say "God is great!"? After all,
    those were the words of the terrorists. It should also be noted that a small greek church was destroyed when the towers fell.
    It was Saint Nicholas orthodox church. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of travelers. Tell that to the people who were on those
    planes.

    August 26, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • One7777777

      "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."

      Acts 20:29-31

      August 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • The Guy

      Again, someone quoting the bible to another who doesn't care...

      August 26, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • sortakinda

      I guess your answer to the mysteries of the universe is Nihilism and DESPAIR?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Rachel

      Actually, people are divisive – not a set of beliefs. People are also ignorant and lazy, unfortunately. I bet the opinions you carry about religion are based on someone else's agenda/interpretation that you took issue with versus studying to reach a conclusion on your own.

      Gotta love America(ns). And, for the record, I am one too.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  11. Thorne

    I completely understand why Bloomberg made this decision. The victims of 9/11 have varied religious backgrounds and beliefs from atheist to Muslim to Christianity to Judaism to Paganism. How are all those voices going to be heard? Can you imagine the furor that would go up for an Imam speaking?
    There will be moments of silence. Use those moments to pray or reflect or do whatever it is you do. If you need someone to lead you in that act, then maybe you aren't doing it right in the first place.

    August 26, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • memphispiano

      Oh yes, there were so many religions represented...probably nearly .5% were Muslim, maybe 1% pagan....and probably 90%+ Christian. It would be SO wrong to have a couple Christian leaders there that day since I'm sure all of the victim's families were shunning their spiritual counsellors in the days after 9-11. What utter stupidity! If we were going to keep Obama and Bush on neutral territory, why couldn't we have let a few religious leaders do the same? How about letting a Muslim cleric read a poem...and a Jewish rabbi read names...or the archbishop pray? YOU might like religion out of society, but I'll guarantee you that faith played a BIG part in the lives of the victim's families. Are we trying to honor YOU or them?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Praveen

      Absolutely!

      August 26, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • The Guy

      90% christian? nice arbitrary number there. it's an undisputed fact that only about 51% of the US is christian and if you haven't noticed, there is an extremely high concentration of Jews in NYC which I'm guessing would bring down that 51% a few ticks.

      alos, you want a christian clergy member, an imam, and a rabbi? we'll need a member from the buddhist, doaist, hindi, atheist, deist, sikh, and other communities as well if any of those religions were represented among the victims. that would make for quite a long ceremony.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • BRC

      @memphispiano,
      For starters, your guesses at the numbers aren't really supported by the most recent population statistics; I think, and I'm trying to recall here, the nation is approximately 70% "Christian", and I will bet my paycheck that there were more than just .5% of the people in those buildings that day who followed or associated themselves with Islam (even if they weren't overly active).

      Next, your description ISN'T neutral. The Imam was reading secular material, the Rabbi was reading secular material, the Archbishop (there are lots of flavors of Christianity, can you really restrict it to just one?) was PRAYING. None of the other faiths are going to be okay with that.

      I'm sure that faith did play a big part in MANY of the victim's families recovery (not all mind you). But how do you know it was good for all of them? Yes, for some people faith brings comfort at times like these, but many people suffer a crisis of faith. They question how a loving god would allow their family member to die like that, to be taken away because of another radical group's faith? They aren't ready to accept a god or prayer back in their lives. Maybe they will be one day, but for now, they may just want to stop and remember their loved one, and see the support of the PEOPLE around them, who they can see and feel, and take real comfort from. Do you believe that someone else's desire to have formal recognition of beliefs that they're not being prevented from having should trump that person's healing? Is this about them, or you?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'memphispiano – oh yes, there were so many religions represented...probably nearly .5% were Muslim, maybe 1% pagan....and probably 90%+ Christian. It would be SO wrong to have a couple Christian leaders there that day since I'm sure all of the victim's families were shunning their spiritual counsellors in the days after 9-11. What utter stupidity! '

      You know memphispiano, this country was built on the idea that every person has a voice, and not that the majority can drown out the minority.
      And as someone pointed out, nice figures you just pulled out of the air there.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Thorne

      memphispiano – first of all take a big breath or a large Zoloft.
      From what I've read, there will be rabbis, and clerics and Christian leaders there, they just aren't going to be speaking so what is your problem? I would say more, but the others have already answered you for me. 90%... so you just randomly grab numbers and start spewing them as fact? Sounds like someone went to the Glen Beck school of intellectual discourse. Also.. you don't know jack about what my faith is so watch your generalizing. It makes you look like a moron. And this memorial is supposed to be about the victims AND their families... some of whom are NOT religious. You're the one trying to make it about YOU and your wants and needs, not theirs.

      August 26, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  12. Junius Gallio

    Now, let me get something clarified. They haven't had formal prayers or clergy at any of the other memorial serviced?

    Why is this a problem now?

    August 26, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  13. Tom

    Bloomberg for President. He gets it right (or left) all the time.

    August 26, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  14. I'm The Best!

    "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."

    YES!!! They're finally starting to get it. Keep religion out of anything that's public! It's a day to remember what heppened and commemorate those who were lost, not to listen to someone preach. If you want so much to pray, do it during the moments of silence, that's what they're there for.

    August 26, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  15. Mark

    ARE YOU FRICKING KIDDING ME?????!!!! 1st they aren't allowing the 1st responders (firefighters-who lost 343 brothers & sisters & cops-who lost 30) to attend & now ONLY POLITICIANS & "victims" families?? are 1st responders victims as well?? BLOOMBERG IS A POS!!!!! & I hope he rots in hell!

    August 26, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Donnie

      it is a grave injustice.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • BRC

      @Mark,
      I find that news rather shocking, where did someone say that the 1st responders wouldn't be allowed to attend?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      They arent banning first responders, they arent officially inviting them, big difference.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  16. sortakinda

    Having clergy present during a few minutes of silence couldn't hurt anyone–except those non-believers who desparately have to be "right."

    August 26, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • I'm The Best!

      They can be there, just out in the crowd like everyone else. There is no reason for them to be up on stage. And if they're up there, why not allow a muslim religious leader as well?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • BRC

      Clergy can be present. The article never said clergy wouldn't be allowed to attend. They did something very well, and handled a situation the way somehting should be handled in a governement that does not have a sponsored religion. They set aside time for all people to think on their personal faith. So if a church group wants to attend en masse and the pastor wished to lead them just prior to the moments fo silence, they can. There just won't be any denominations speaking from the main podium, and there shouldn't be.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • The Guy

      So basically instead of appealing to all people at the ceremony, regardless of religious background, clergy should be included to exclude others? Guess you still like segregation, huh?

      August 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • sortakinda

      I said "present" AND "silence." Capisce? Prayer in the heart, meditation on the people we have lost at the WTC, PA and Pentagon, and the WARS that used 9/11 as their raison d'etre.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Zeppelin

      I've got no issues with anyone praying, as long as it's silent and kept within, in private, as it should be. This is NOT the place to be gathering into little religious cliques, trying to make a spectacle of yourself/your faith.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • sortakinda

      You can bet that there were more than a few prayers said in the Towers and for the people in the Towers that day. There are no atheists in foxholes.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • BRC

      @Sortakinda, yes there are. I'm one of them. So, since that saying clearly isn't true for all, the need for SPECIFIC prayers can't be applied to all. Let people do what comforts them the most, and let it be kept personal.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'There are no atheists in foxholes.'
      Often spouted, never true.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  17. MTP

    Whether there is prayer or not in the formal ceremony does not prevent you from praying on your own if you choose to do it. Make up your own prayer, in your own words – from your own heart, instead of reciting a prayer someone else has written for you.

    Or be fair and include prayers from every religion of people who died in this tragedy.

    August 26, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • The Guy

      Bingo.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  18. Amazed

    I would call this the anti religion blog. This is my third time reading it and wow look at the hate. It seems like even those who don't believe are haters. Well CNN I will not waste another moment of my time with your blog. God Bless all of you yeah I am one of those mindless Christians. You do not reject me you reject my Jesus but he still loves you anyway 🙂

    August 26, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • One7777777

      It's the persecutiion of Christians. That should let you know what "time" it is.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Zeppelin

      That's sad you are proud of being mindless. Non-believers are not necessarily haters.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      ' but he still loves you anyway'
      unless you die still not believing, in which case his love condemns you to burn forever. Ah toasty warm love.

      August 26, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  19. Bus2

    Why in the world WOULD there be prayer at the ceremony? This has nothing to do with religion whatsoever. Why would they assume that they're SO special that their jesus fan-club deserves a presence at every event?

    August 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  20. Moe Green

    I was in Midtown on 9/11. It was my first day on a new job that plunged the NY metro into a year of horrible business climate. I was laid off 1 week after hire because the company was reorganizing (I guess they forgot to tell the hiring manager). If anyone needed prayer it was me... at that time.

    My opinion... People don't need a priest, rabbi, etc. to puntificate about 9/11. A moment of silence and one's personal connection with their god should be enough.

    It is time for real stories of survival and rebuilding...

    August 26, 2011 at 8:49 am |
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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.