By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – The details of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the plane crash in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, will be remembered at length this week. What, when, how and who will dominate the headlines. As people across the country head to churches, temples and mosques this weekend, they will once again wonder why. They will look to the pulpit and listen for an answer.
This week, clergy of all faiths are preparing answers as their congregants ask why 9/11 happened, how it should be remembered and what their response should be as they go out from their sacred space and back into the secular.
For some, there will be calls to patriotism among the prayers. Others will shy away from country.
The remembrances cover a wide variety. Some churches will bring care packages to first responders, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles will be packed for a prayer service Saturday, and there will be hundreds of churches simulcasting services featuring megachurch pastor Rick Warren or other famed clergy.
We spoke with clergy of many different faiths, in many different parts of the country, and asked how they were preparing and what they would tell the faithful as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 falls on a Sunday.
The Rev. Rich Smith had just arrived as the pastor of a church in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., in 2001. His first Sunday was September 9, 2001. On the morning of the 11th, they were planning for the next service. "A lot of that had to go out the window," he said.
He was fortunate, he said, because no one from the church died in the attack. A family joined later and the husband, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, was at the Pentagon when the plane struck on 9/11. "He described running as the floor was collapsing behind him," Smith said.
Smith said that 9/11 "affected the whole nine years I was there."
Today, Smith pastors the First Congregational Church in Reno, Nevada, part of the United Church of Christ.
"Even though Reno wasn't attacked, I think people feel like we as a nation were attacked. Even when you're out in the hinterlands like we are, you still feel like you're part of something bigger."
For their 9/11 services, thousands of Catholic and Protestant churches that follow the lectionary, a standardized collection of scripture readings, will be reading from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus teaches his disciples how to forgive.
Smith's church will do the same. He said there's some providence to the timing of the passage.
As he preaches about forgiveness, he will remind his congregants of a quote from Nelson Mandela. South Africa, he said, was a, "marvelous example of how you handle something when you feel like you've been so wronged."
"I love the phrase Mandela used, 'No future without forgiveness.' "
In New Orleans, Catholics sitting in the well-worn pews of St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter will hear the same passage from Matthew and a similar theme from the Rev. Msgr. Crosby W. Kern when he steps up to the pulpit.
"Forgiveness is probably God’s plan. We don’t forget. We don’t let our guard down. We as a people should be defensive to protect ourselves. But have we got that same sense of mercy and forgiveness we see in God the Father? Whatever our attitude is to our enemies, it’s a good time for us to reflect one that," Kern said.
He will preach to a group of congregants who faced different struggles in the past decade. The statue of Jesus in the back of the church is still missing fingers, a scar from Hurricane Katrina; one that Kern hopes to restore this year.
"We don't forget. We learn. But part of the American psyche is, we are big enough to forgive. We are big enough to try and get over the scars and the wounds that we've suffered throughout our history. It might take a long time, but we can't give up," he said.
In the passage in Matthew, Jesus tells Peter he should forgive the person who has wronged him seven times seventy. "In scripture for us, that's eternal. That's the perfect number, without end. So I'm going to take off on the forgiveness part," explained Father Adam Lee Ortega y Ortiz, Pastor of Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Church in Sante Fe, New Mexico.
"I know people are meditating on the evil of the attack and the anger it brought about," he said. "When we can quench the anger in our own hearts first, we can do a lot better in the world."
Chaplain Capt. Mijikai Mason, a Southern Baptist minister, will be preaching Sunday to a group of high school students at a military academy outside Columbia, South Carolina. As a member of the Army, he has lived the response to 9/11 and the wars that followed. His audience this Sunday were toddlers at the time of the attack.
He will preach on theme of remembrance. "Now we’re in more of a healing phase. Now it’s more how will we remember and celebrating the lives that were lost,” he said.
Maj. Tommie Pickens, one of Mason's fellow chaplains, is being flown to Chicago to deliver the message Sunday at Addison Community Church on the west side. Pickens said the church is patriotic and loves the U.S. and its military.
He will be preaching from 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If my people which I call by name, humble themselves and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and heal their land."
The verse refers specifically to ancient Israelites but has been interpreted throughout the ages to apply to any country at any time and is very popular with American evangelicals.
Pickens will preach about the first responders, the troops and the spirit of unity that swept the country after the attack, "and lifted the simple prayer, 'God bless America.' "
"We need to remember the cost of the human lives," he said. As congregants go out after the service, he wants them to remember to "be proud of our great nation. Be proud we live in the land of the free because of the brave. Our nation has always exemplified resolve."
"We can stand tall even at the end of a horrible day," he will emphasize.
Days after the attacks, the Rev Billy Graham stood and delivered a sermon to the nation at Washington National Cathedral. Ten years later, Graham is 93 and does not have the stamina to participate in any services, said his daughter Anne Graham Lotz.
His health is failing, and his daughter will be taking the pulpit this year.
Her message will focus on Isaiah Chapter 6, which pertains to when Israel was in crisis and how the prophet's life was shaken.
"When his life was shaken, he didn't say, 'why me?' and allow his life to be filled with self-pity. He looked up," she said.
"I'm going to take that and flesh it out," Graham said. "I think it's very appropriate that in times like this, we look up and ask God to give us a fresh glimpse of himself and a revelation of truth." Her sermon will be in Raleigh, North Carolina, and simulcast around the world on radio and TV.
Tony Campolo will be guest pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Campolo is a professor of sociology at Eastern University, a Baptist school not far from Philadelphia. For years, he has been a popular speaker and author, and he relishes his role as the guy who comes in to speak and gets to leave at the end of the service. It frees him to speak what he feels God is calling him to say.
"If I anger people, I'm gone. It's easier for me to sound the prophetic voice than someone who is there all the time," he said.
Campolo will also be preaching on Isaiah Chapter 6 but will take a different approach than Graham.
"The focus of the passage is that there is a sense that in a national crisis, each of us is called upon to stand up and be instruments of God for making things right in the world," he said.
He will also warn congregants against the radical elements in their own midst, not just in other faiths. "All religions have the tendency to create extremism, and in the words of Fredrich Nietzsche, 'Men never do evil with more enthusiasm, than when they do it in the name of God.' And we must recognize that the evil we see in the extremists in the Muslim community that brought about 9/11, is the extremism that we can find in the Jewish community and in the Christian community."
"Revenge is not the way of God's people," he will say, knowing that the memory of 9/11 can stir up old emotions and broad hatred that he says is "unbefitting of religious people."
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., said that though terrorists misused the name of God to commit their atrocities, in many ways, 9/11 brought Jews and Muslims closer.
He will use his time in the pulpit to warn against cynicism the attacks may have allowed to creep in. "Al Qaeda punctured our belief in ourselves, and we need to remember to ignore them. Al Qaeda’s greatest threat is not the physical, but the attack on our belief in our own destiny; they have spread disbelief and cynicism throughout our land," he plans to say.
"This 9/11, let us remember the dead. But let us also remember the great things we have accomplished in our history and promise ourselves that despite the evil intentions of al Qaeda, we will continue to soar for greatness."
Charles Park is pastor of the nondenominational River Church in Manhattan. They are partnering for a joint service with the Lower Manhattan Church, which was founded after the attacks by Rick Warren's Saddleback Church as a way to minister to the community nearest to ground zero.
Both churches meet blocks from ground zero, and on Sunday, Park will speak to congregants who watched what happened 10 years ago in person; congregants who brushed the toxic dust of falling buildings off their jackets and had to move on with their daily lives.
"I will be focusing on 'how to move forward from 9/11' because as one wise person said, 'Every pain that is not transformed is transmitted,'" Park said in an e-mail.
He will lean heavily on the prayer of St. Francis, "to remind the people of faith the calling from God to be a 'blessing to all peoples on Earth.' "
"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace."
If all the Preachers could simply and quietly vanish away, the planet would be so much better off. Let those whith needs visit therapists. Forget religion. It had brought so little to so few.. Dellusion should not be synonymous with satisfaction. All dellusions should require therapy, and religion is the most potent dellusion of all.
I wil remember those fallen on 9/11, and all those that fell as a result of it (saddly, for no valid reasons), without the help of anyone. I have my own conscience... Why do you, religious believers, need someone else to point to you what is right....?
Meditate on this and try to open your mind to the fact that you simply could be wrong...What a shock if you ever find out ot was all for naught..
And vice versa. If Christians are wrong they lose nothing more than any other person. If atheists/agnostics are wrong they lose everything.
Yeah, Xtians lose nothing.
(Other than living with dignity, respect, empathy, and intellectual honesty during the only life there's ANY reason to believe we all have...)
If Christians are wrong about Allah, they burn in hell forever. Sorry to break the news to you, Frank with a capital F!
Colin, now I know why they named you after a body part.
There's no body part called the "colin". Perhaps you are thinking "colon". Or perhaps you just aren't thinking.
First Sermon: Um, maybe religion is wrong? Best we all stop this religious stuff, I mean Muslims have been doing it longer than us and LOOK at them!
Americans are from the Christian Europe and stole everything cultural from the Christian Britain. That's why you don't have your own culture except some inventions. Islam is much younger than Judaism and Christianity.
Islamism is the LAST of the great faiths.. While I might agree with you, please show a little knowledge.
I'm not sure who is more obnoxious- -the atheists who call everyone idiots who do not think like they do – or the Christian fundamentalists who think everyone will go to Hell who do not think like they do. Both of you bore me to tears with your extremist and hateful views.
Allie, you hit the nail on the head. I've always distrusted anyone who thinks he/she has all of the answers!
Allie, mankind are criminals and need forgiveness from God. He did everything for mankind to be saved by sending the Savior Jesus. You just need to be humble and honest as a morally-responsible creature before the Creator God. Our sense of fairness is from God. He will do fair trials for everyone. Stop worrying about others(do it later) and trust in Jesus to save yourself from your own sin and its result.
America, you always brought liberty to everyone by your sacrifice. Muslims needed freedom, too.
It's funny how people think, both so called Christians and you atheists, that burning in hell is actually a bible teaching. All of the bad things that people attribute to religion are indeed true. Religion does cause most of the problems in the world and most teach that god tortures people, that there is something after death, that people are dancing around happy in heaven, etc. In reality though, these are teachings not even based on the bible. I believe this link will address the make believe teaching of hell http://www.watchtower.org/e/200909/article_01.htm. This one will address several myths about death, all of which most religious people believe and supposedly base on the bible, http://www.watchtower.org/e/20020601/article_02.htm. This one addresses what gods purpose for the earth is http://www.watchtower.org/e/bh/article_03.htm.
Anyway, all of this is what the bible really teaches, not what 99.9% of "Christians" teach. I thought it was interesting.
Actually, the Bible has plenty to say about Hell & Heaven. The New Testament alone has 15 verses about hell, 8 on hades, & 622 verses on heaven from the Old & New Testament. The Watch Tower Society are the Jehovahs Witnesses & are a cult (non-Christian group). I don't think your attempt of bringing anything of informative knowledge to this conversation is of any use. Even you don't really have an opinion. Your only interest is sending people to the Watch Tower.
When I was rather young(6 or 7th grade) I spent a lot of time with my classmate at his home who was a Baptist Pastor. The family was very nice to me. One day while he was away and had nothing to do I started to read all of this material on his desk from the Southern Baptist Headquarters in Nashville.
My friend(his son) said don't be reading that as that is his sermons and they come come Nashville as to gear his sermons.
I was shocked because I thought all these great messages was coming from God. So that is religion!!!!
So that is: "One man's religion".
That's pretty much all religion. None of them can think for themselves.
Ever see one read the whole bible?
It doesn't happen.
Sorry you have that concept of religion. First thing, religion never saved anyone...only a relationship with Christ does. It is too bad that you didn't talk to your friend's dad...I think he would have explained that they are only ideas via an outline OR sermon starters. God DOES give pastors (or whoever is speaking) ideas & direction current to the needs of the congregation. There is no "law" written that he has to preach a "canned" sermon. That would be....boring!
However, there ARE times when life gets super busy. Hospital visits, family crisis that needs pastoral council, board meetings & the like that suck up his study time. It is nice to have a back-up plan just in case.
Hope this helps.
What the last sermon ever given should say:
“John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.
The Situation Today
Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville
It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.
or of the mis-use of religion
Religion was the fuel for 9/11. How do you put out a fire that just keeps burning?
How does a spiffy ,who does not exist, put out a fire?
Agreed. The only responsible thing for religionists to do on 9/11 would be to stay home and let the rest of us grieve in peace. God believers: YOU brought this on. Every single one of the 19 hijackers was sure of eternal paradise. Look where that got us.
How does a god, who doesn't exist, suck so many believers in?
This might be the dumbest article CNN has ever allowed on it's website.
where is God in the midst of this tradegy? read my brief entry at: http://mikec16.blogspot.com/2011/03/ever-asked-yourself-where-is-god-when.html
No fair, that link is bogus, it took me to meatspin.com!
Good article, although it was Bishop Desmond Tutu (not Mandela) who said "no future without forgiveness." I just read the book; what a powerful witness from South Africa.
yes but desmond tutu has been labeled anti–semite because he dared compare current israeli policy to south african apartheid.
You cannot criticize israeli policy without being labeled anti-semite and holocaust denier.
Desmond Tutu was also involved in moving child molester Priests all around Africa. When confronted with that he stated, "I have no comment".
Israel has called jews anti semite when they speak out about the injustice, apartheid, racism and terrorism that israel commits daily
Americans should see the 9/11's impact on the world, not just on America. Rich nations hardly ever change.
Crazy asians should stick to growing rice and less offering their opinion.
@SATAN – Get Thee Behind For God's Sake
911 was an inside job. Zionists will usher in the anti-christ. He will not be arab or muslim he will be a european "false" jew and will be the false christ (talmud believing) just like the real jews (torah believing) killed the real christ.
check out talmud vs. ten commandments, talmud is modern jewish bible..
When I was on deployment in the Gulf couple of years ago, usually navy chaplain tells a prayer on loud speaker system before night time taps, so one time around 9/11 he spoke the following words: "God, please allow tomorrow fine weather so all the missions would go as planned and all bombs would find their targets..." That infuriated me more than anything else, such ignorance made us equal to all those religious terrorists we fight against. I was ashamed I was christian that day...
Just wanted to share that flash back.
My guess is that you got the bombs dropped without the help of God. What was your part in it? Sorry, but you don't get to blame God or the preacher.
God bless America, because God prefers U.S over THEM.
God doesn't select who what happens. The supreme being doesn't select on over the other. If there is a loving God do you think one moment that he would want to inflect this terrible disaster on people. God doesn't visit illness and disaster on people.
His purpose is one and that is to have everyone as one as kind and good regardless of race.
Does it ever occur to pastors that patriotism might be sin? The fellow who wants his congregation to leave the church "proud of their country" –where is that in the Bible?
Ps 27:10 "Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God."
Right on! Aliens and strangers until the Reign of Christ!
Colin you do not believe and there fore are blind to the truth. Yes many died that day praying to their god. But the true God, father to Christ saves not from death on this earth but from death (burning in hell) in eternal life. Death is here now on this earth to remind us what sin brings us. Death is the wages of sin. All have sined and will die on this earth but those saved by Jesus will have eternal life in His kingdom to come. You can only see now and Jesus is forever.
Yeah I figure your good ole loving god is burning roghly 10 to 15 billion souls right now to last forever. That must be where he gets most of his fun.
That's cute, how you think the Bronze Age fairy tales of a nomadic Middle Eastern tribe of Canaanites has any bearing on the world today.
Hey oldfortman, I have never understood the whole “believe or burn” theory. If a god truly loved us, why would it set up the ovens it then tries to save us from in the first place?
It’s a bit like a Nazi guard at Auschwitz expecting the daily adoration and grati.tude of the Jewish prisoners he elected NOT to gas and burn that day.
So I guess you would be perfectly willing to die right now, and maybe take others with you because this life is basically meaningless except as a means to get to the afterlife. Hmm, kinda reminds me of the way some people thought 10 years ago.
And what if your wrong? Maybe you should live your life like it is the only one you will get, cause most likely, it is.
Obama's Muslim cousins did it.
Burn many crosses of late?
We are here today to recall those who died in the religion-fuelled attacks of 9-11. It is odd to me that, in the decade that has passed since the event, you have learned nothing of the futility of prayers and the non-existence of your gods. Many prayed that day that loved ones would survive – they died. Many prayed that they themselves would not be incinerated or crushed in the falling towers – they were killed all the same.
This god you believe in struck down Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist and agnostic with complete indifference to their belief or worth as a person. And yet, here you come, week after week, lining up like sheep in the pews to hear me say essentially the same thing I have been saying for the last 20 years. The same nauseating drivel about how god loves you, moves in mysterious ways and how life was meant to test us and our faith. What bull$heet. Get a life, people.
There is no all loving sky-god looking out for you. Nobody is there reading your mind (or “hearing your prayers” as you like to call it). You are going to die. So am I. So let’s enjoy the razor thin slit of time this Universe grants us while we still can. I’m out of here. I am going to hit on that beautiful parishioner I have always fancied and then I am going to visit Paris, hopefully with her.
Will the last Christian to leave the church please turn out the lights.
Now that is a good sermon.
I like it
God did not fly those planes that day, Colin. People who chose to give into hate did.
The Fool has said in is heart, "There is no God" from Psalm 14 & 53.
Question: If there is a Bang Bang why does it allow so much evil in the world?
You are ignorant....but you will find that out on the day you die. I hope you come to see it before you get to that place but if you don't you will have yourself to blame. Sometimes I have no words to describe how sorry I feel for people who think like you. NOONE should have to go to hell, if they can help it.
Yes I can – This whole believe or burn nonsense is one of my favorite Christian superst-itions. It allows believers to smugly tell non-believers they’ll get their “comeuppance” – like you just did. Think it through, though. You don’t have to kill, you don’t have to steal, you don’t even have to litter. All you have to do is refuse to believe in the Christian god and he will inflict a punishment on you an infinite times worse than the death penalty….and he loves you.
Its silly stuff and obviously made up to keep the gullible in line.
Colin, I find it interesting that you won't murder, steal or lie in court because you are afraid to go to jail. The state is apparently very unloving to you in spite of the fact that you are so patriotic. I can't even run a red light without facing a jail sentence...sheesh, I want to live in a state where I can do whatever I want and only then I will be convinced that the state is loving, fair and just toward me. So then using your logic....do you realize that God also has laws and we are accountable to God for EVERY thought and action. When we sin against him we are in error and on our way to judgment, He has made a way for us to have our sins forgiven by believing that Jesus Christ can forgive our sin because he paid the penalty in our place. It calls for simple faith....but it is the most important thing you will ever do. Think about this VERY seriously man, you might not have a lot of time before you find yourself before His judgement seat.
His judgement seat? And where might that be?
Some words to consider carefully:
“John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.
It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.
Your beliefs are those of a coward and an idiot.
@yes i can
i wouldn't bet money that colin wouldn't lie in court.
Listen to the bleating of the small-minded bigots. They've lived in fear of a shadow for so long that they can't understand how anyone can bear to ignore it. All they have are empty threats and promises of post-mortem retribution for being born a human. If they weren't so inclined to be nuisances to rational people trying to live their lives and also inclined to incite holy wars against the rest of the world, I would find them amusing. Their blood soaked history makes that sadly impossible, though.
@herbert juarez.....hahaha, that was funny. Poor Colin. Apparently lie in court is not all he can do....he preaches too, you know (mostly lies, by the way).
HO HO HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS
Be gone from me, Satan with clause!
remember, santa spelled backwards is......
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.