On September 11, 2001 our nation was attacked and confronted with a deadly drama that ultimately ended with the death of nearly 3,000 people. The events and images of that day are still vivid and fresh. We cannot forget the live images of commercial planes purposely plunging into the Twin Towers in New York. Or the news that the hub of America’s military, the Pentagon, was also hit. We remember with pride the example of those on Flight 93 who with courage fought against the hijackers causing the plane to ground itself in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and not at its intended target. They sacrificed themselves so that others might be saved.
As I watched in horror the events unfold, I kept asking myself why do people engage in such violence against each other. Who determines which life is more precious? Who chooses who lives and dies? Is life so disposable? I remember feeling angry at those who orchestrated the attacks, but my anger was more than at those involved. I was angrier at humanity itself for its disregard for the sanctity of life — that we feel we can only resolve our problems through violence, abuse of power and disregard for the powerless and vulnerable. I wish I could say that the world has changed since then and that we have embraced respect for life and learned how to resolve our differences, but that would be a lie.
The eleventh anniversary of 9/11 was marked with tragedy as U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The horrifying images of Mr. Stevens’ lifeless body being dragged down the streets of Benghazi among throngs of onlookers elated at what was before them should cause each citizen of the world to take a very deep breath. The unconscionable act of disregard for life points to the deepest issues plaguing societies across the globe. No one can hide from it; it’s real and sobering.
The battle today, we are told, is between political parties, nations, religions, sects, institutions, philosophies etc. But strip these down to the core and what we find is that the dignity of the human person itself is under attack, and that lies at the heart of the battle. When blatant disregard for the sanctity of every life is embraced as the model for resolving problems, individual happiness, religious freedom, political correctness or so-called development, society itself is weakened; humanity is weakened. The fruit of a disposable society reaps not life but death. No one wins; we all lose.
If we are going to resolve the conflicts confronting humanity, then we must first see every person, pre-born to natural death, as vital, protectable and indispensable. If we cannot see this, then we will never achieve genuine peace, harmony among nations or truly just societies. Consider the words of Pope Benedict XVI as he reflects on true peace:
The duty to respect the dignity of each human being, in whose nature the image of the Creator is reflected, means in consequence that the person cannot be disposed of at will. Those with greater political, technical, or economic power may not use that power to violate the rights of others who are less fortunate. Peace is based on respect for the rights of all. Respect for the right to life at every stage firmly establishes a principle of decisive importance: life is a gift which is not completely at the disposal of the subject. As far as the right to life is concerned, we must denounce its widespread violation in our society: alongside the victims of armed conflicts, terrorism and the different forms of violence, there are the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on human embryos and euthanasia. How can we fail to see in all this an attack on peace? (Pope Benedict XVI in an address for World Day of Peace, January 1, 2007)
Some would have us believe that we are incapable of choosing the good, or that humanity will never learn a different path. I fully disagree. Let’s consider September 11, 2001. In the midst of the firestorm that was unfolding, we saw the images of people from every walk of life, strangers most of the time, offering comfort and consolation. In those precious moments, in the midst of such tragedy, the world was given a glimpse of what humanity is also capable of giving. This was never clearer than in the heroic sacrifices of 418 civil servants, fellow citizens, who sacrificed their lives for their neighbors. Some might say it was their job; I say it was so much more. What about the passengers on Flight 93? They could have allowed fear to stifle their reactions; instead, they chose to defend the lives of others. The legacy of each of these reminds us of our ability to rise above fear, doubt and selfishness and protect life even at the cost of our own.
I believe we can change our direction, our societies, our cultures and future if we are willing to be a people of LIFE. It won’t be easy because it will demand a radical transformation of life and lifestyles. However, it can be done. We can’t be afraid or intimidated by the powerful. They want us to believe that we cannot win or change. Like those who marched into those burning towers to save the lives of their neighbors, we too must be as bold, courageous and determined. Today is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The Cross is a sign of victory and serves as a constant reminder to every generation that love can conquer all things.
My thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. I am also very mindful of Mr. Stevens and his companions; as well as all whose lives are silenced because of violence and disregard for Life. I pray that one day; very soon, we will embrace the dignity of Life and truly be a people of peace. Jesus says, I give you a peace the world cannot give. I pray for this peace which begins in each of us with a spiritual transformation and respect for life.