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. Remember

    When was the bible written? No one knows. Who wrote it? No one knows. They didnt like the first edition or testament and made a new one with a nicer god and added a son to make him more like us. Hey let's worship that book! I just dont see the allure. And miracles only seemed to happen in this book, but none since. Hmmm. And they laugh at the Scientologists with their space ships. But really, if there was a God, would he allow another movie starring Ben Affleck or Ben Stiller?

    August 26, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • lol

      Wow you really have no idea about anything you are talking about do you? In situations like that it's really best just to keep your mouth shut.People who aren't idiots may just come along and put you in your place.

      August 26, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • joand

      Hey lol, you had your chance to put him in his place but you didn't. And his central theory is intact. The bible is a made up piece of stories pieced together out of old Jewish custom, mythology and the need to explain the unexplainable. Man has a need to create gods because man is scared of what he does not know and cannot attribute to something, anything.
      Religion is made up. Refute that.

      August 26, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Remember you said: "And they laugh at the Scientologists with their space ships."

      Is that not a good reason to laugh from a reasonable stand point? A bet between L. Ron Hubbard and some other person and poof they have another delusion to throw in the face of the world...sounds like any other religion to me...fictional at best.

      August 26, 2011 at 6:26 am |
  2. Kat-A-Tat

    Religion is the cause for the attacks in the first place!!

    August 26, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • cdmiles

      This is about being an American and believing that you have a right to live and conduct your life the way you see fit...whether you are religous or not makes no difference. Each one of those folks killed on 9/11 were working and living in MY BACK YARD and a religously motiviated group of individuals murdered them. Religion should have no part in any gov't sponsored/led ceremony with respect to 9/11.

      August 26, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  3. Joel

    @ Donna,

    Seriously, I'm waiting for an answer on why it's ok for you, and your religion, to ask to not be challenged and attacked, but have no problem doing it to people who aren't like minded? Explain this persistent double standard? Your beliefs are no more right or wrong than mine.

    I'm waiting........

    August 26, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  4. Unknown

    Many people from many religions died that day: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and Agnostics, and other religions. The ceremony should be about everyone, not just a particular group. Be inclusive people!

    August 26, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • Fact

      Have you saw what muslims did? They told that American deserve in 9/11. From Indonesia to Libyan, I heard this.
      In Islamic world, the war between sunni, shia, wahabian, and sufi continue. Americans help one of them (Kuwait) and Americans get it burned.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:52 am |
  5. mack

    Great decision. Makes sense that the grandest city in the US would step forward on this issue. Religion has absolutely no place in this ceremony. We're honoring the thousands that died in a terrorist attack, nothing more.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  6. Jerry Lucas

    I know for so many here it maybe hard to understand but, If you had worked down there on 9-11 and those days after you might think different. I know that I heard many of the people working with my asking God to please let us find some one, let us give hope to those without it right now and please give some comfort to those we lost. I know these things becuase I was there and I cannot forget those days.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • joand

      Jerry, I'm sorry for you but you must know....god didn't answer because god doesn't exist. Prayer doesn't work because there is nothing there to pray to. By some lucky bounce of structure or concrete a person may have survived long enough for you to drag him/her out. And they should thank their lucky stars that people like you were there. But god had nothing to do with it.

      August 26, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  7. Red79

    good, religion caused this disaster.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • saywaaat2

      yeah,them abrahamic cults are the source most of human misery.

      August 26, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Nat Q


      This is the drum that needs to be beat here. A lot of us who intend to pay respect in various ways that day find answering a religiously-motivated tragedy with more religion to be highly disrespectful and offensive.

      August 26, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  8. Matt

    They (the bible totting extreme christians) rub separation of church and state in the LGBT's face, why should this be a issue for them? Laws do not bend on a whim for convenience. Religion is a choice and a choice that has shown time and time again only to lead to conflict and bloodshed. The same goes for us in our struggle to legalize marriage for all human beings. Recently in Waterloo, Iowa a young man was brutally beaten just for being gay by followers of a so-called good religious figure who is currently running for president. So NO, so I think the New York government has made the right choice by doing this. Yes, it was a terrible event but it happened 10 years ago and yes, it is something i will never forget; sitting in terror in my desktop publishing class in my rural high school in western Pennsylvania. But i do not think the state should sponser a prayer as this is something that we should be doing in that of our own hearts every day if we so choose.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  9. The Dude

    A secular world is a peaceful one. Religion is poison. If 9/11 didn't teach you that then you are a deluded fool.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • mack

      The dude rules.

      August 26, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • joand

      Actually, the Dude ABIDES....and I'll have a white Russian with my secularism, thank you very much.

      August 26, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  10. us1776

    Good. Leave the damn "Invisible Being" cults out of it. They're the cause of most of the war and suffering in the world.


    August 26, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  11. Marine5484

    If people want to pray they are going to pray.....they don't need an official prayer to make it meaningful.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  12. edvhou812

    Now, now, now. We don't want to OFFEND anyone. NYC can handle a few building falling down, including two that each had their own zip code, but religion could OFFEND some. We need to be UNDERSTANDING.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  13. Donna

    Observer.....who's bottom line??? Not mine or any other Christian I know would consider a non-believer a lowlife. Come on!!! Have you read the posts from all of the non-believers making fun of something very important in my life. They are horrible posts.....yet, I have yet to come across scorching posts from Christians against you non-believers......if you can't say something nice.....just don't say it. why does it bother you that I believe in God???? It's a good thing!!! Live and let live....

    August 26, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Observer


      Do Christians advocate that anyone not following their "true" version of the Bible is bound for Hell? Yes or no?

      Have you read the Bible?

      August 26, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  14. Donna

    Listen everyone, God is all we have, there is unspeakable sorrow in this world and all you really have is your faith. I have suffered alot, so has many others, and yes I was bitter towards the God I prayed to but within the last couple of weeks my despair became so great that all I could turn to was Jesus and I prayed for strength. Pray as much as you can and you will be safe in your heart.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Joel

      "Listen everyone, God is all we have, there is unspeakable sorrow in this world and all you really have is your faith. I have suffered alot, so has many others, and yes I was bitter towards the God I prayed to but within the last couple of weeks my despair became so great that all I could turn to was Jesus and I prayed for strength. Pray as much as you can and you will be safe in your heart."

      Funny, weren't you asking for people to stop challenging your beliefs a little bit ago? Oh, right. The religious double standard. Not challenging other peoples beliefs and all that kind of stuff doesn't apply to you, just to people who don't think like you. Gotcha...... and typicaly

      August 26, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • Nat Q

      If you really believe that then I truly, deeply pity you.

      What a sad, small way to live your life.

      August 26, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Answer

      It is nature to accept a challenge and overcome it.

      I challenge you to accept it.

      August 26, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • joand

      Donna, god is NOT all we have because god DOES NOT EXIST. I'm sorry that you feel a need to believe some sort of being does exist in order to explain things you can't explain; to make you feel better for things that stress you out; to pretend answers when you pray for things. That's really unfortunate. You should try just being strong for yourself, for your family and for your friends. You'll find that you don't need a mythological deity to actually connect with the people you love and be a responsible human being.

      August 26, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  15. steward

    I'd be in favor of clergy participating, even though my religion might not be represented, except for one thing: Bill Donahue is in favor of it. If he's in favor of it, you know there's something wrong with it.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  16. Reality

    "I'm telling you I saw it first hand, the power of prayer," – so says Fernado Cabrera a New York City councilman and the pastor of New Life Outreach International church in the Bronx.

    What??? If prayer is so powerful, 3000 human beings would still be alive today!!!

    Some rationality for posting on your refrigerator doors:




    Added details upon request.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • saywaaat2

      i believe in the easter bunny and santa and love getting presents for christmass.and having a few days off doesnot bother me either.the rest of them fairy tales better left in them unholy books.

      August 26, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • joand

      Have you ever noticed how god hates ALL amputees? I mean, people yap all the time about how they prayed to god for someone to get over the flu, or cancer or to be found in the wilderness when they foolishly wandered off. And in their minds, god answers those prayers.....sometimes. In his own 'good time' they say. And he doesn't answer ALL prayers, just the ones he wants to, or the ones from the most devout, or really......just because.

      Yet god never, ever allows a human amputee to grow a leg back. Recover from cancer? Check. Grow back an appendage? Yeah, sorry.....you're SOL on that one!

      August 26, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • Fact

      Thats question lies in bibles on book of Job. And the answer is not our will but Father will.

      August 26, 2011 at 5:55 am |
  17. Randoms

    '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. – Stop being such a sheep, and don't say hardship can only be answered by a spiritual belief. How's about guiding your own ethics and the thought some make believe god is going to guide you through life. Get real.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  18. Rob

    Religion was at the root of the 9/11 terrorism acts. If you believe in God because you will someday be in a better place, have you considered not believing in God now and making THIS a better place? Why wait? Imagine all of the wars and conflicts that wouldn't happen if people weren't out to promote or defend their religion. They find it necessary as religion is harder and harder to defend as science continues to make a God obsolete. How would the world be different if there was no God? Seems like it would be pretty much like this. How would the world be different if there was no religion? Much more peaceful.

    No religion is needed at these services. You have your churches for that. Good call Bloomberg.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  19. sameeker

    We wouldn't want to offend the muzzies now would we.

    August 25, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  20. petridish

    Why should we praise a god or gods that let 9-11 happen in the first place?

    August 25, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
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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.