So a group of us friars, priests and brothers, waited at the firehouse with the firemen the morning of 9/12 to head across the bridge by bus to Manhattan. The firemen sat in silence while watching the news on the television. Also, a fireman was writing a list of names on a chalkboard, the names of their confreres who had died.
Pain was written on their faces. There were no words that seemed appropriate. We just sat praying silently next to them and waited. The bus was delayed so we were encouraged by the firemen to take the subway to Manhattan as far as could and then to walk the rest of the way. That we did – we passed two barricades at which we simply said, “The firemen asked us to go to Ground Zero.” We were given the OK.
Before we knew it we were at a place that seemed surreal. Somehow we were there, yet it didn’t seem real: skeletons of buildings, broken glass, water pouring down escalators, grey soot up to our ankles, most of all the pained faces of heroes trying their best to do something, anything.
My responsibility was to bless the bodies which were being removed from the rubble. The unmistakable orange body-bags were carried with great dignity. I stood next to a Rabbi and a Protestant Minister. As the bodies were being carried to the first temporary morgue the bearers paused, we prayed, gave a blessing and cried.
Other friars prayed with small groups of firemen, policemen and other responders. Only prayer and simply being present seemed to be appropriate. Some brothers gave out rosaries and offered their shoulders to cry on. Noting Saint Francis’ love for animals we were asked to bless the specially trained dogs which were helping with the search for remains.
On the way back to the Bronx we rode the bus with the firemen. We rode through Manhattan as crowds of people waved and showed signs of support. We sat in silence. Only prayer and simply being present seemed appropriate.
Fr. Mariusz Koch, CFR