Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey visits site of terrorist attacks in New York

February 4, 2002

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey visited the devastated site of New York's World Trade Center on Sunday February 3, co-leading a memorial service at 'Ground Zero,' visiting the relief mission to rescue workers at nearby St. Paul's Chapel, and preaching a sermon at Trinity Church, Wall Street, that put the arduous and often horrific tasks of rescue workers and volunteers in the context of justice, love, and faith.

Carey was among 40 world religious leaders attending the World Economic Forum in New York. A delegation of the leaders journeyed by bus to Ground Zero early on Sunday morning to hold a memorial service on a viewing platform for family members who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center. It was 'a moving act,' said the archbishop. The service concluded with the assembly singing 'We Shall Overcome.'

On the opposite side of the World Trade Center site, now a muddy pit with the concrete foundation of the center's plaza exposed, stood the Carey's second destination--St. Paul's Chapel. Within hours after the September 11 attacks, the chapel began serving as a sanctuary for the relief workers, including the firefighters, police officers, ironworkers, engineers and others who converged on the site.

A peaceful sanctuary

The chapel was 'humming' with activity, as it has since that fateful September day, as Carey and his wife Eileen, accompanied by Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, greeted people. Police officers lined the wooden pews and firefighters in rescue gear walked down the aisles. Carey expressed his amazement at their work and offered words of gratitude. 'They're all heroes, aren't they?' he said. The Rev. Dan Matthews, rector of Trinity, said that people were calling it 'ground hero' instead of ground zero.

A photographer expressed his gratitude for the 'sanctuary….a peaceful place' in the midst of chaos. 'You must be very proud of your church,' a policeman told Carey and Griswold. The presiding bishop described his visit to the chapel a few days after the terrorist attack, finding the door open and leaving a message. 'It’s a miracle that nothing happened to the chapel,' Griswold told the Careys.

The Rev. Lyndon Harris, a member of the Trinity staff who serves the chapel, greeted Griswold on that September morning, and led the tour Sunday morning. He related the story of a woman from the Bronx who rode the train down to the church to offer her cane for someone in need. 'It is now one of our sacred artifacts,' Harris said.

Carey met Michael Bellone, who said it was his job to 'extract bodies' from the site. Just 10 minutes before, Bellone said, he had removed a body part from the rubble.

Walking by faith

Then it was on to Trinity, just down the street, for Eucharist, celebrated by Griswold. In his sermon, Carey said that the lessons of the day were centered on the theme of Christian witness, the kind of witness he had just seen in action at St. Paul’s Chapel.

'The Old Testament passage puts it so beautifully: 'What is it that the Lord requires of you? Only to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.'' Arguing that 'there should be no separation between living the faith and proclaiming it, Carey said that he was sure that “those of you who were so close to the terrible events of September 11 in this church and elsewhere still remember how the shock of it tested your faith. I've been struck by so many stories of heroism, bravery, defiant optimism, outstanding courage…I imagine that each of those heroes felt very vulnerable, very scared indeed. And that's entirely understandable because walking by faith clearly suggests that we haven't arrived at our destination. Walking in faith implies that we have still so much to learn, so much more growing to do.'

Noting that the followers of Jesus Christ are not 'plaster saints' but like the rest of us 'fallible, stumbling and weak,' Carey said that 'by God's spirit, they are able to walk in love and service. And they and we will always be surprised by God's power to use us when we least expect it.'

Related Topics: