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Restoring Hope, Faith After September 11

"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 doubled—from 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' November meeting.

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 prayer—for 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 presence—at Mass, in our homes or in our communities—be 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 volunteering.

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 for hope.

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.  

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