"Now, more than ever within our memory, the world needs
to hear the victory of hoping against hope. Who is more
responsible than ourselves for giving people reasons for
hope and living with confidence in God?"
Last November, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston
spoke those words in his final presidential address to his
fellow U.S. bishops. He went on to challenge the bishops,
saying, "If people do not find in the leaders of the Church
reasons for hope that the world needs, we will have failed
them in a time of their great need." That challenge extends
to all of us.
'Faith Has Been Awakened'
Since September 11, Americans have seen a resurgence of
faith. Stories of faith have emerged from the tragedies,
and recent polls conducted by the Pew Center show that a
majority of Americans believe religion now has a more prominent
role in public life. Since the beginning of 2001, the number
of Americans who say religion now has a higher profile in
society has more than doubledfrom 37 percent in March
to 78 percent in November.
Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, chairman of the bishops'
International Policy Committee, also commented on the emergence
of faith since September 11. "Faith has been awakened in
many hearts," he said while introducing the statement Living
With Faith and Hope After September 11 at the bishops'
Cardinal Law further praised the Church's response: "In
the name and in the person of Christ we have been present
to mourn the dead, to comfort the sorrowing and to provide
support and counseling. We have repudiated the scapegoating
of persons because of religion, ethnic origin or nationality.
We have also reflected on the challenges posed by these
attacks in the light of Catholic teaching."
What Do We Do Now?
In an attempt to carry our faith forward from September
11, the bishops provided a framework for us to follow in
the conclusion of their document. Below are the bishops'
suggestions, along with some ideas for living out those
suggestions in our own lives in the coming months and years:
A time for prayer. Since September 11, a great deal
of time has been spent in prayerfor those who were
killed, for our leaders, our military, the people of Afghanistan
and others affected by this struggle. Let us continue praying
that all those affected by this tragedy will find comfort
and healing through their faith.
A time for fasting. As we enter the season of Lent,
let us honor the bishops' request that Catholics fast at
least one day a week for as long as this struggle continues.
A time for teaching. Many Catholics are not aware
of the Church's teachings on war and peace. Take this opportunity
to read, learn and discuss those teachings.
A time for dialogue. In remarks made on November
6, Pope John Paul II said that dialogue among people of
different faiths is essential to ensure "the name of the
one God become increasingly what it is: a name for peace
and a summons to peace." Take some time to learn about and
experience various aspects or beliefs of a different faith.
Suggest or help plan an interreligious prayer service.
A time for witness. A recent poll indicated that
Mass attendance has returned to pre-September 11 numbers.
One story associated with St. Francis emphasizes the importance
of our witness to our faith simply by our presence. According
to the story, Francis asks another friar to go with him
to preach to a town. After walking through the town without
saying a word, Francis thanks the friar for accompanying
him. When the friar comments that they haven't preached
yet, Francis replies that they have, merely by their presence.
Let our presenceat Mass, in our homes or in our communitiesbe
an example of our faith at all times.
A time for service. Organizations such as Catholic
Charities and Catholic Relief Services are playing a key
role in providing relief to those affected by both the September
11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan. In addition, many
Catholic military personnel are working to defend the common
good. We can help support these individuals, organizations
and the work they are doing through prayer, donations or
A time for solidarity. People throughout the world
and history have experienced similar tragedies to those
of September 11. Whether in New York City, Washington, D.C.,
Afghanistan, the Middle East or other parts of the world,
let us remember and rejoice in our commonality, rather than
focus on our differences.
A time for hope. "Hope assures us that, with God's
grace, we will see our way through what now seems such a
daunting challenge," noted the bishops. Let us turn to God
Drawing on a Rich Tradition
Each of these steps provides us, as Catholics and Christians,
with a road map for strengthening and living out our faith
in a changed world.
From St. Francis to Pope John Paul II and our current bishops,
the Catholic Church and its members have a long history
of relying on their faith in times of struggle and rejoicing.
Let us use that history as a mandate and guide to move forward
from September 11 with hope and faith. S.H.B.