Catholic memorial to promote prayer at ground zero
May 31, 2005
Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York dedicated a Catholic memorial at ground zero May 22 to serve as a complement to the national memorial planned for the site of the World Trade Center destroyed Sept. 11, 2001.
NEW YORK (CNS, May-23-2005) -- St. Joseph's Chapel, located near ground zero on the ground floor of a seven-story apartment building in lower Manhattan's Battery Park City, has been renovated and designated as the Catholic memorial.
Visitors to ground zero will be able to walk a few steps toward the Hudson River and enter an environment keyed to the same theme but designed to encourage prayer and meditation.
In the homily at the dedication Mass, Cardinal Egan said the grace of God had "its own way of taking over," and could have an impact even on casual visitors to the renovated chapel.
"My dream is that many will come and look around, and hear that 'God so loved the world he gave his only Son,'" he said in an allusion to the Gospel reading of the Mass from the third chapter of John.
St. Joseph's is a chapel of St. Peter Parish, the first Catholic parish established in New York.
Previously on the site cleared for the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, the chapel again found its life disrupted in its new location by the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.
All the residents of the area had to leave for a time, and the chapel was used first by government relief agencies as their command station and later by construction workers, police and others as a place for rest and counseling.
Cardinal Egan noted that although "everything was ruined" in the chapel it was back in operation a year later.
Since then, the congregation that gathers there has been developing the chapel as the Catholic memorial to Sept. 11. The cardinal described it as "a gift to New York and a gift to the nation."
After more than 30 artists submitted proposals, John Collier of Dallas was chosen to produce four statues as memorials to groups affected by the tragedy: St. Joseph, patron of construction workers; St. Michael the Archangel, patron of police; St. Florian, patron of firefighters, and St. Mary Magdalene, first witness to the Resurrection and "apostle to the apostles."
Father Kevin V. Madigan, pastor of St. Peter, wrote in a background piece distributed at the Mass that the statue of St. Mary Magdalene honored those in the planes that crashed into the towers, those who came from outside New York to help at ground zero and "those who came to the site to mourn their beloved dead."
The faces portray the "rosary of suffering" that the sculptor Auguste Rodin said he was seeking to show in his noted work, "The Burghers of Calais," Father Madigan said.
In an interview after the Mass, Collier said he did not try to copy Rodin, but considered Rodin's work especially beautiful and studied it carefully. So when he is trying to create something beautiful, viewers may see the Rodin influence, he said.
Those attending the dedication Mass included several other artists who contributed to the Catholic memorial, representatives of groups honored in the art works, public officials and a representative of the Muslim community, Imam Nayeem Mohammed.
Letters from Rudolph W. Giuliani, mayor of New York at the time of the 2001 attack, and current Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg were read.
Other artistic works commissioned to portray themes of the memorial included a terra cotta rendering of Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of the Americas by Brett Slavin of Ryebrook; an icon of Sts. John and Paul, Roman soldiers martyred together and patrons of Cardinal Egan's titular church in Rome, by Sister Cecelia of the Nuns of New Skete in Cambridge; stained-glass "Windows of Life and Renewal" by Guy Kemper of Louisville, Ky.; a translucent glass wall with abstract designs behind the altar, by Christopher Cosma of Brooklyn; and two works by Polish immigrant Wiktor Szostalo -- a sculptured torso of Christ and a glass rendering of the vision in the second chapter of Isaiah of swords beaten into plowshares.
Lawrence R. Hoy of Port Chester, who has done many religious designs, including the altar and related structure for the 1995 Mass of Pope John Paul II in New York's Central Park, served as the overall design consultant.
As the theme of the Catholic memorial, Father Madigan chose the statement of Jesus in chapter 12, verse 24, of John's Gospel: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
"We are trying to say through these beautiful works of art that even though there was death and destruction all around us that terrible day, the results of hatred and violence, there were also the signs of regeneration, rebirth and renewal," he wrote.