New Memorial to 9/11 First Responders a ‘Monument of Sensitivity,’ Priest Says

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By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

NEW YORK — A new addition to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum that pays tribute to the first responders, survivors, and their families who have continued to suffer from the attacks is being praised by faith leaders as a sign of “continued hope” emerging from an event known for its devastation.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed during the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, but by 2024, it’s estimated that more individuals will have died from exposures to toxins and other hazardous materials during the resulting recovery efforts than from the attack itself.

For that reason, on May 30 of this year – the 17th anniversary of the official end of the recovery effort at the World Trade Center – the Memorial unveiled the latest installation, known as the Memorial Glade, designed to pay tribute to those who continue to suffer and to the memory of those who have died since the attacks.

Father Brian Jordan, a Franciscan friar who was present at Ground Zero on the day of the attack – called the Glade a “monument of sensitivity” and a “stroke of genius,” recalling that he’s celebrated numerous funerals for Catholics who have died from 9/11 causes in recent years.

Each year when the anniversary rolls around, the names of those that died from the attacks are read aloud and remembered in a public way. The Memorial Glade, now a permanent part of the Ground Zero site, is a way to ensure that those who have gone on to die from illnesses related to the attacks are remembered as well.

“I imagine I’ll be having more funerals in the near future,” he told The Tablet, insisting that it’s important to memorialize all of the victims who died from that day’s attack, even if they didn’t die on the day itself.

The Memorial Glade has been an outstanding tribute and the living reminder that we cannot forget, not those who died that day, but those who have died since that time and those who are dying at this present time,” Jordan continued. “We have to remember them because they served and they’re giving the ultimate sacrifice for our country as well.”

Jordan became a regular presence at Ground Zero during the recovery efforts, leaving his midtown Manhattan parish and running directly toward the scene of the attack to bless bodies in the immediate hours after the towers fell.

He would go on to spend many weeks there and is remembered by recovery workers for the work he did to save what is now known as the Ground Zero cross – a cross-like beam that was discovered in the debris from the towers.

As many firefighters, police officers, and family members of victims were asking “where was God after 9/11,” Fr. Jordan said he pointed them to that cross. “God is in that cross. This is a sign of hope,” he told them.

The cross would go on to face legal challenges from outside groups opposing its religious symbolism, but it ultimately prevailed and is now in the 9/11 Museum in what Fr. Jordan says is a reminder to everyone of “God’s overwhelming love.”

He believes the Memorial Glade is yet another physical reminder of the importance of memorializing not only that day’s events but also the continued loss stemming from it. As a clergy member, he says he can’t help but recall the role that ministers have played along the way.

“This was very personal for us,” he said, noting that many of the victims from the day of the attacks and since then were Catholic.

“The role of faith in response to the attack on the World Trade Center is something that’s really very important and central to understanding the response,” echoed Amy Weinstein, director of collections and senior oral historian of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

“It’s not something that always rises to the surface, but there were pastors, ministers of pretty much every faith down here from the beginning and throughout the nine months of the rescue and the recovery,” she told The Tablet, noting that ministers need to be remembered as part of the first responders.

For Weinstein, the new Memorial Glade – which includes six large stones, ranging from 13 to 18 tons each – is yet another way of literally cementing the efforts of those recovery workers and giving them a permanent presence at the site.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, who has served as a chaplain to the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) since 1999, concurred saying that nearly twenty years later, all faith traditions are still grappling with loss – but seeking new ways to find hope.

Part of that hope, he says, has been found in the solidarity of people of all faiths that were attacked that day and have faced ongoing loss.

“Even though I’m described as the Jewish chaplain of the FDNY, 9/11 transformed all of us into being chaplains for everyone because when we were there and bodies were found and body parts were found, nobody asked is this a ‘Jew’?”

“We were all there together. I stood with a reverend, with a monsignor, with an imam. All the people who participated from different faiths became one family,” he continued.

Looking ahead, he said the Memorial Glade is yet another way of remembrance, but one that isn’t simply concerned about the past alone.

“Remembrance is something that all of our faith traditions stress,” Rabbi Potasnik told The Tablet. “Remembrance is an integral part of our faith. But it’s not enough to remember.”

“The question is then what are you going to do after you remember?” he continued. “Because you remember you have a responsibility to make sure that others who may be in a similar predicament are given strength and support.”