By Nicole Seiferth
As it has every year since 2001, St. Paul’s Chapel welcomed thousands on the anniversary of 9/11: pilgrims of all faiths, men and women visiting from Europe and Philadephia, from Queens and Japan, those who lost friends, coworkers, or family on 9/11, and those who weren’t yet born when the terrorist attacks happened. Their presence, all these people of so many different backgrounds, was made more poignant this year because of the controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic community center that will be located just a few blocks north of the chapel and Ground Zero.
"This chapel is for everyone," the Rev. Daniel Simons, priest for liturgy, hospitality, and pilgrimage, preached at the service of remembrance earlier today.
Trinity Wall Street, of which St. Paul’s Chapel is part, supports the Park51 project. The project’s sponsors and Trinity have worked together in the past on interfaith matters, including a television program, “Listening to Islam,” which they collaborated on following September 11, 2001.
On September 10, 2010, Trinity participated in an interfaith candlelight vigil in support of religious freedom, diversity and equality, a block from where the community center will be located.
The Rev. Canon James G. Callaway, D.D. deputy for faith formation and education at Trinity, spoke during the vigil, which attracted more than 2000 participants.
“As we gather tonight I am reminded of the words of the psalmist,” Callaway said, “‘Behold how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.’”
It was the same verse that Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, leader of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, quoted in his remarks, as well.
Noting the vigil's diversity, Imam Talib said, "I am grateful for a gathering that looks like New York City."
New York City and more moved through St. Paul’s Chapel the next day. One of the earliest groups to arrive was the Bangladesh-American Christian Alliance from Queens, who brought with them a colorful banner that they unfurled for a photograph with Simons, before kneeling in front of the high altar for several minutes of prayer.
"We are coming here to pray for the departed souls of September 11," said Michael B. Malo, a member of the alliance.
"We don't want a mosque at Ground Zero," he added quietly, before moving on to talk more about the people they would be praying for throughout the day.
Irma and Nienke, a mother and daughter visiting from Holland, spent most of their morning and afternoon at the chapel. Irma reflected that heated conversations and conflicts over religion was part of life in their country, too.
"We talk about it all the time," she said. "But many people in Holland are more tolerant, I think."
In some ways, it was a quieter 9/11 than in years past. The crowds seemed smaller and, with it being a Saturday, many of the people who work in Lower Manhattan during the week weren't around. Even so, Emily, originally from New York but visiting from Virginia as she and her husband do every year on September 11, was grateful to discover the chapel after standing on Broadway all morning listening to the reading of the names of those who died on September 11, 2001.
"It was the most moving thing," she said. "to walk into something about peace and love."
Throughout the day, visitors left flowers, mementos, and written prayers on the altar.
"May the Lord bless the world," one read. "Peace not war. Love not hate. Blessings not curses."
Nicole Seiferth is assistant editor of website and parish publications at Trinity Wall Street.