September 9, 2011

Clergy: Preserve faith in humanity

Determined to provide congregants with 'something to hold on to' in the face of 'profound evil,'

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

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The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "reminded us of the profound evil that human beings are capable of," said Bishop Richard Malone, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, seen here in his Portland office lst month. "But we also were reminded that whenever there is an awful tragedy, there is a great flourishing of compassion and goodness in response."

Tim Greenway Staff Photographer

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Rabbi Carolyn Braun

IN HER WORDS: An excerpt from Rabbi Carolyn Braun's sermon delivered Sept. 18, 2001, at Temple Beth El in Portland

"How could anyone or any group of people mastermind such a deadly plan?... As humans, we have been given the power to do good and/or to do evil. ... Absurdity is the situation where people have no regard for human life; where political thought, or even worse, religious thought, justifies the mass killing of innocent bystanders. ... It was only in the aftermath of the tragedy that we have been able to focus on what is holy. And, for me, at least, it has helped to conquer the absurdity ... People (are) rushing in from all parts of the country to help in the rescue efforts. ... The best of humanity is at work where once the worst of humanity tried to destroy life and living. ... Last Tuesday's tragic events, and this holiday of Rosh Hashanah, call us to examine the holy in our lives and to cherish it." Read the full sermon

Read the message from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the wake of 9-11



Across the United States today, Catholics will be celebrating a Mass for Peace and Justice, recognizing the anniversary of the attacks. The horror of Sept. 11 offered two distinct lessons, Malone said.

"It reminded us of the profound evil that human beings are capable of, especially because it was so shockingly methodical," he said. "But we also were reminded that whenever there is an awful tragedy, there is a great flourishing of compassion and goodness in response."

Malone was auxiliary bishop of the Boston archdiocese in 2001. The attacks happened on his day off. He remembers driving through the suburbs of Weymouth and Braintree that evening.

"People had gathered on so many street corners, holding candles as a show of mourning, solidarity and hope in that terrible moment," Malone said. "I remember feeling dazed and a bit breathless. The whole thing was beyond comprehension. I feel it in my gut to this day."

Malone worried at the time about the impact of the attacks on Muslims in the United States. He recalled speaking with a Muslim cardiologist in the Boston area who was upset that any Muslim would hurt people as the terrorists did, but who also was concerned that all Muslims would be viewed as terrorists as a result.

"The real downside was the condemnation of Islam as a source of evil, which it's not," Malone said. "We had to fight that."

Many clergy continue that struggle, including Mohamed Ibraham, imam at the Maine Muslims Community Center in Portland.

Since Sept. 11, many Muslims feel they are viewed as potential terrorists, Ibraham said, particularly when they travel and are interrogated by customs officials at airports and border crossings. The media often heighten anxiety among non-Muslims by focusing on the religious background of Muslims in the news, when their faith wouldn't be an issue if they weren't Muslim, he said.

"We remind people that one person isn't responsible for another person's sins," Ibraham said through an interpreter. "We are all citizens or residents of this country and we share the grief of that day. Muslims should be good and responsible people, but we shouldn't feel guilty or responsible for what happened."

Immediately following Sept. 11, some members of Temple Beth El worried about the safety of Muslims living in Portland and volunteered to walk their children to school, Rabbi Braun recalled. She addressed the resulting climate of fear through one of her sermons for Rosh Hashanah. She struggled to put the attacks in some perspective.

"As a member of a people that has been persecuted, I immediately felt for the Muslim community in town," Braun said. "As a nation, we had felt invulnerable for a long time and now we were exposed. As human beings, we often take fear and turn it into hatred or anger, but the core feeling is insecurity."

Back then, Braun found her congregation to be unusually attentive and eager to hear her message. She focused on the holiness of the first responders and their efforts to conquer the absurd destruction wrought by terrorists who showed no regard for human life in the name of religious extremism. Her message hasn't changed much in 10 years.

"People were hungry for what we had to say, for something to hold on to, something real, not 'There, there, God will take care of everything,"' Braun said. "Now, it's time to reflect on where we've come in 10 years and where we go from here. I'd like to think we've learned to transcend the fear and are able to honor one another's cultures and religions."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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