Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York told OSV News the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which will be marked with solemn ceremonies across the U.S., should be observed with memories of lives lost and impacted by the day's events. But he added it also is worth remembering the spirit of the following day, Sept. 12, 2001, when Americans came together as a nation.
On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic terror group al-Qaida hijacked airplanes for suicide attacks that left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York City, at the Pentagon just outside Washington and in a field in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where passengers thwarted the terrorists' intention to strike another target in Washington, likely the U.S. Capitol with Congress in session.
Cardinal Dolan, who became archbishop of New York in 2009, said the date is "nationally recalled with reverence, even internationally, but it's especially poignant to New York City ... because that was ground zero; that was the place of the tragedy."
In New York City, al-Qaida hijackers rammed two commercial jetliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. At 8:46 a.m, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into floors 93 through 99 of the North Tower. At 9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower. Within two hours, both towers collapsed, killing 2,753 people in New York alone that day.
"It's rare in my 15-and-a-half years as archbishop of New York that I've ever met anybody that did not have some disturbing memory of 9/11 -- a neighbor, a family, a friend -- just the reaction of seeing the tragedy upfront and knowing realizing how vulnerable we were," Cardinal Dolan said.
The damage of that day stretched beyond the New York City lines, Cardinal Dolan said, saying he also seeks to attend anniversary memorials in smaller towns in the area that saw loss that day.
"This is not a ripple effect, it's a tsunami effect that it had throughout the whole Archdiocese of New York, plus the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Diocese of Rockville Center, and that's still vivid in people's memory."
The 9/11 attacks would continue to claim more victims. In the years following, more than 4,600 first responders and survivors have since died from cancers and other ailments incurred by toxic dust, fumes and fibers from the debris; thousands more continue to suffer.
A 2021 study by the Pew Research Center found that most Americans who were old enough to recall the day remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the country was under attack. However, an increasing number of Americans have no recollection of that horrific day, because they were either too young or were not yet born.
Cardinal Dolan said that in remembering the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans should also reflect on Sept. 12, 2001, when Americans came together, he said, to console and recover.
The pastor of St. Peter's Church, which previously stood in the shadow of the World Trade Center and served as a rescue and recovery site, Cardinal Dolan said, told him that marking 9/11 "is very, very important." St. Peter's was the place where the body of Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain to New York City firefighters, was placed before the altar as the attack's first publicly identified casualty.
Only the day before, Father Judge gave a prophetic homily to the firefighters of Engine 73/Ladder 42 in the Bronx, saying, "You do what God has called you to do. You get on that rig, you go out and do the job. No matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea of what God is calling you to do, but God needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us. God needs us to keep supporting each other, to be kind to each other, to love each other. ... Turn to God each day -- put your faith, your trust, your hope and your life in his hands. He'll take care of you, and you'll have a good life. And this firehouse will be a great blessing to his neighborhood and to this city. Amen."
Cardinal Dolan said the pastor of St. Peter's Church shared with him why in the story of that terrible day, "9/12 is even more important."
"I said, 'What do you mean by that?' He said, 'Well, that's the day we took a deep breath and started to rebuild and renew and console each other. That's the day we start kind of looking inward and looked outward. That's the day we just said, we got work to do,'" Cardinal Dolan recalled. "And he said, 'really, everything after that has been part of 9/12.' And I thought, 'My, oh my, how perceptive.'"
An annual commemoration ceremony takes place at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in New York to read aloud the names of those killed in the 9/11 attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, according to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, with similar memorial events at other sites. Vice President Kamala Harris attended the event in Manhattan, while first lady Jill Biden laid a wreath at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.
President Joe Biden marked the occasion by attending a memorial ceremony in Alaska on his way back from a trip to Asia.
National news and features editor Peter Jesserer Smith contributed to this report.