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. godlessmom

    Belief in God gives people answers? It gave the hijackers on 9/11 an answer. It gave them the strength to commit mass murder and their own suicide. The mayor is right. Kudos.

    August 26, 2011 at 6:36 am |
  2. John


    August 26, 2011 at 6:28 am |
  3. Beatrix Kiddo

    Muslim New Yorkers died inside the World Trade Center also. So, all of these so-called religious leaders have no problem with inviting a Muslim Imam to say Islamic prayers at the 9/11 ceremony? These same religious bigots who won't even allow a mosque within a mile of Ground Zero? It's better to keep religion out of it all together!

    August 26, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  4. NOT SURPRISED in Georgia

    ............... and again, we wonder what's WRONG with our COUNTRY!!!!!

    August 26, 2011 at 6:04 am |
    • wayne

      The founding fathers did not include religion.

      August 26, 2011 at 6:07 am |
    • Frankie

      Funny, a lot of muslims think as you do about this country. Here is the twist: Lack of their religion in US public policy! (regardless of the founding fathers' issue). Do you see how you look at this statement? That's how I looked at yours.

      August 26, 2011 at 6:49 am |
  5. Islam is peace

    Islam is peace. We believe that Allah bless American. Allah love USA and Allah send us to USA bring justice and law just like in Dearborn. Learn more in htttp://faithfreedom.org

    August 26, 2011 at 6:02 am |
    • wayne

      If there is a god and you pretend to know what god wants then you need help.

      August 26, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  6. wayne

    Religion does not have the answer to anything in spite of the claims of idiots like Fernado Cabrera.
    This is a win for the American spirit.

    August 26, 2011 at 5:56 am |
    • Frankie

      ditto that!

      August 26, 2011 at 6:57 am |
    • Anita

      Wayne – I absolutely agree. The clergy of any religion are on their own version of a power trip thinking their presence is necessary to create the appropriate mood to the day. The decision to not specifically invite clergy or public prayer is correct. The moments of silence allow for prayers by individuals if they choose to do so. If people can't compose their own prayers, then mouthing the words of someone else's prayer doesn't mean much anyway.

      August 26, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  7. sc29646

    Thats a real fine job Mayor. Take control of all the roudy priests in your city. Plus this is good payback for all the headaches the new muslim religious center caused you. Even Rod Blagojevich would be proud of you. Well done. +1 terrorists

    August 26, 2011 at 5:52 am |
  8. kate


    August 26, 2011 at 5:52 am |
    • wayne

      Religion is the cause of the terrorism. Keep religion out is a smart move.

      August 26, 2011 at 6:05 am |
  9. Amber

    Bloomberg is an absolute idiot! This is a Christian nation, in spite of what Obama proclaims. Those terror attacks were directed at Christians with non-Christians left as collateral damage. PC is so out of control on the left. What is wrong with tolerating a few minutes of public prayer on this, the 10th anniversary. I don't believe all New Yorkers are atheists or agnostics. Only those posting here chiming in their personal opinions. Who cares if someone is offended? We were all offended on 9/11!!!! Bloomberg hasn't reserved the dissing of just the clergy. He also declined to include the firemen who crossed this great country to help with the rescue and recovery. Those who also risked their lives right along with NYFD and NYPD. To not include these people is very callous, and for what gain? To include political figures and not the helpers seems very lopsided. Maybe Irene will knock some sense into Bloomberg. NY was united. And now, it's back to business as usual. Tip-toeing around all non-Christians. We're asked to be tolerant, but we never receive tolerance in return. GOD, bless America!!!!

    August 26, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • wayne

      Wrong, this is not a christian nation. It's a secular nation with freedom of religion. The terror attack was against the US because it is not a religious nation.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:48 am |
    • taxes

      wheres your taxes? you religions scream involvement, but you never want to involve yourselves with paying your fair share? well then i guess you should shut your mouth

      August 26, 2011 at 5:55 am |
    • Sardukar

      We do just fine without the clergy men..

      August 26, 2011 at 6:40 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      It is not a christian nation. I applaud the mayor for keeping religion out this...it re-emphasizes the need for separation of church and state. If you wish to have your beliefs in a fairy tale than keep them to your home and not the public eye.

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

      Oh Amber, besides your frail grasp of our nation's history you must also realize that there will be plenty of 'public prayer' at this event. In America, any person who wishes to pray is able to do so, even at an event such as this. We're just not going to stick a microphone in front of some religious leader and let him run his lips for the whole crowd, which is a wonderful turn of events.

      August 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  10. Muslim is superior

    Degradation of American moral. Govt is presentation of GOD for peoples. America Govt have been selected by God. God give america soil to its choosen peoples. Why Americans exchange this gift with worldly pleasure.

    August 26, 2011 at 5:33 am |
    • wayne

      There is no god. If there is a god let god take care of those that don't believe. Your god must be very weak to send in idiots to take care of infidels.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:51 am |
  11. hobbit

    What do you expect? They have not rebuilt the only Church lost in 9/11. So why would let there be a common prayer?

    August 26, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • Amber

      Because you have non-religious liberals running the show.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:35 am |
  12. Rabbi Green

    As someone who lost friends in 9/11, it would be insult to force "formal prayers" on those mourning..... There has not been a public prayer before and there should not be now.... I personally find it insulting that some would use this day to force their believes on others....

    August 26, 2011 at 5:08 am |
    • Hank

      Since when is one or two prayers by any religious organization representative at a specific function "forcing their 'believes' (you mean beliefs) on others"

      August 26, 2011 at 5:23 am |
    • Amber

      Where's your tolerance, Rabbi? Oh, you've got none.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:36 am |
    • mb2010a

      I agree. The observances should be totally non-sectarian. There were people killed in the fall of the towers from many religions.
      Keeping it impartial is a much more balanced approach. The six moments of silence are a perfect solution...each to his own.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:49 am |
  13. gupsphoo

    Good decision. People who died in 9/11 were of different religions (or non-religious). A Christian prayer would be disrespectful to the victims who were not Christians.

    August 26, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • John in NY

      While I don't care one way of the other if there are prayers at ground zero, especially since in my view having huge ceremonies year after year are a joke anyways, but I have to ask.... how exactly is a prayer made my any faith being disrespectful toward anyone?

      If I'm Cathlic and Hindu friend dies and I say a prayer for them am I being disrespectful?

      August 26, 2011 at 5:27 am |
  14. American Solder

    Towel heads win again W T F ?

    August 26, 2011 at 4:37 am |
    • Real Deal

      I guess that they just pray better - longer, stronger, harder, more sincerely... with just right magic words, eh?

      August 26, 2011 at 4:42 am |
    • Hank

      HMMMMM! Is this remark and example of tolerance, respect, compassion, or bigotry? I certainly would not ascribe this sentiment to the dedicated, brave members of our military who sacrifice for us daily and make what we have as a people and country a reality.

      August 26, 2011 at 4:56 am |
    • Real Deal


      You think this person is military? Look again... he is a lump of melted lead (solder), with equal mental capabilities.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:06 am |
  15. Hank

    Prayer certainly can be private, but then what about communal prayer? Might as well eliminate churches and synagogues and mosques where communal prayer occurs and have a few moments of silence. More and more attempts in this country are designed to omit God from our public activities. Eliminate a recognition of God as you know God has no good consequences. You reap what you sow. The blind lead the blind. Wake up!

    August 26, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • Rabbi Green

      When you say God, which one are you talking about.....

      August 26, 2011 at 5:10 am |
    • joand

      Oh Hank, methinks thou doth protest too much. I'll keep it simple for you: SEPARATE not eliminate. Let the churchy things stay in the church, home and heart where they belong, NOT in the public square or government.

      August 26, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  16. Hank

    Prayer certainly can be private, but then what about communal prayer? Might as well eliminate churches and synagogues and mosques were communal prayer occurs and have a few moments of silence. More and more attempts in this country are designed to omit God from our public activities. Eliminate a recognition of God as you know God has no good consequences. You reap what you sow. The blind lead the blind. Wake up!

    August 26, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  17. Its All Good

    I wish that everyone was aware of St Patrick's Cathedral in NYC on 9/11. Overflowing with people praying. Of course as soon as no iminent threat of the apocalypse was evident, the church returned to its normal occupancy levels.

    August 26, 2011 at 4:11 am |
    • paul ny

      What does that have to do with anything? If prayer worked at all 9/11 would have never happened in the first place.

      August 26, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • Real Deal


      Well, I suppose a bunch of maniacal Muslims think *their* prayers worked. Tragic... this magical thinking.

      August 26, 2011 at 4:28 am |
  18. Flex

    Another Obama mandate.....bet money on it.

    August 26, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  19. paul ny

    Religion should not be a part of the ceremony. If you have one religion represented you must have them all. If you want to pray , do it in the 6 moments of silence. That is all.

    August 26, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Ok, simple question. If a Iman comes to the microphone and said let us have a moment of silence, would that be cool to you?

      August 26, 2011 at 4:05 am |
    • paul ny

      The day has nothing to do with any one religion. So if you want to pray do it in the 6 moments of silence. What is the problem?

      August 26, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • Terry from Canada

      @Mark from Middle River – But there won't be an Iman involved either, and that's the whole point. No religion or belief system is given a preference over the other, including Atheists such as myself. Besides, if you think about it, your God is omnipresent. If you really believe, He will be there no matter what happens or who speaks. And within each of the 6 moments of silence, your prayers will be heard.

      August 26, 2011 at 4:18 am |
  20. George

    I am a Minister and I very firmly believe that religion should be private and completely out of government. When I was a young boy in the late 40s and 50s they led the class in prayer. Where I lived you were either Protestant or Catholic, that was it. Today we are much more diverse and there is no place for religion in public schools or any public forum. People can pray anytime they want. True prayer comes from the heart and does not need to be publicly displayed. People who insist on praying out loud, or leading public prayers are very ego centered or interested in promoting their religion. Again, true prayer is a private conversation between a person and the object of their faith, which some people call God!

    August 26, 2011 at 3:43 am |
    • Texan Dave

      I agree, to a degree. I am the son of a minister, and I think that if we include any Christian prayer, we should include all that want to be represented. I disagree that public prayer is "ego centered or interested in promoting their religion". Community prayer is a sign of the community that ascribes to that religion putting their faith together. Any faith that wants to be represented, should be. What kind of minister are you if you don't believe in the power of faith?

      August 26, 2011 at 3:51 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>“People who insist on praying out loud, or leading public prayers are very ego centered or interested in promoting their religion. ”

      You mean like Gay and Lesbian couples showing affection by kissing and holding hands in public are promoting their lifestyle?

      I guess the “We're GAY We're HERE , GET USED TO IT!!!” would be close to praying out loud?

      >>>”Again, true prayer is a private “

      Hmm... Sorta going with the same line of reasoning of “you can be Gay, just be Gay in private”

      George, when fighting the monster try not to imitate it less thee become a copy of the very monster. 🙁

      August 26, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • paul ny

      Mark are gays asking to have a gay parade at the event like religious people are asking to make it all about them and their beliefs? It is interesting you chose that comparison. Bigot much?

      August 26, 2011 at 4:14 am |
    • Brian

      Matthew 6:6 – "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

      August 26, 2011 at 4:25 am |
    • Anonymous

      You're talking to yourself in your mind, Minister. Ideas about the supernatural are ideas of excessive imagination.

      August 26, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Mark: There is no comparison between prayer and being gay. Prayer is man-made, being gay is not.

      August 26, 2011 at 4:53 am |
    • Anita

      George – Thank you! My sentiments exactly – and when I find a church that accepts that belief, I might go back to services someday. In the meantime, my beliefs are my own and I don't feel a need to impose them or even share them with others except in how I live my life and treat other people.

      August 26, 2011 at 7:04 am |
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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.