Afghan refugees are seen at a camp in Obrenovac, Serbia, Aug. 31, 2021. CNS photo/Fedja Grulovic, Reuters

Editorial: Turn to prayer

  • September 2, 2021

The images are still so fresh in our memories, the feelings still so easily recalled, that it is incredible to realize that 20 years have passed since the events of a day that will always be known as 9/11.

In front of our eyes, the world watched in horror as two hijacked passenger planes ripped into the World Trade Center’s twin towers 17 minutes apart just as the workday began in New York City. A half hour later a third plane slammed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Twenty minutes later, a fourth plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field as passengers fought the hijackers.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed that terror-filled day, including 24 Canadians. 

At his general audience that week, Pope John Paul II asked the inevitable question, one that still haunts: “How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people. But faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail. Christ’s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit.”

So much changed in the world in those few short hours of Sept. 11, 2001 and the story is still unfinished. Within a month of the attack, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, home to al-Qaeda and the mastermind of the attack, Osama Bin Laden, in an attempt to wipe out terrorists on their home turf. It seemed to work, for a while. But 20 years and tens of thousands of casualties later, the picture is bleak. With the withdrawal of coalition troops — including Canada’s — almost complete, the militant Taliban forces have swiftly crushed opposition and are once again in power.

Left behind are hundreds of thousands of Afghans who justifiably fear for their lives or lost all they had in the fighting. They are in search of peace and healing and a new beginning, and thankfully many nations are responding. Canada has said it will take in 20,000 vulnerable Afghans and Catholic agencies in this country are prepared to take them in.

So begins a next chapter in the ever-winding trail of events that perhaps did not begin on 9/11, but were certainly accelerated on that day. It is a tragic tale, to be sure, but the ending has not yet been written. There are many, many lives to be saved and begun anew in the true Catholic calling of “welcome the stranger.”

Pope John Paul II had no way of seeing 20 years into the future in those grief-stricken days after 9/11, of course, but he knew that whatever happened, the guiding force of faith must always play a role.

“Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail,” he said, “those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Christian hope is based on this truth; at this time our prayerful trust draws strength from it.”

It’s a strength that is much needed as the next chapter unfolds.

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