ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- The sun beamed down onto a calm blue September day Monday morning as dozens gathered for the 9/11 memorial at St. Bonaventure University. Despite the perfect weather, the crowd was relatively somber and quiet. Rows of Army ROTC students stood completely still at attention as the Rev. Francis Di Spigno, OFM, took to the podium to begin the ceremony.
Senior Lena Young opened with her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Gliding through the air like a robin, Young’s powerful voice brought elegance to an otherwise casually attended morning event. She brought the crowd with her on the highs and lows of the song, leading to deafening silence at the conclusion.
“We pray for peace, so that we may never have to fight again,” Di Spigno, the University Ministries executive director, said in his opening remarks.
He spoke of the pain endured by Americans and countries around the world in the war on terror. His message was one of unity in the face of division, of sticking together as a singular people despite the lines dividing us by region and culture. The small crowd stood transfixed at the speech, no phones going off or conversations being muttered as the man spoke.
“Bind us always together, as we continue to build that peaceable kingdom,” Di Spigno read from Colossians 3:12-15, driving home the point of unity and forgiveness in tough times, calling us to clothe ourselves in humility and compassion.
At the request of the priest, everyone flipped open their pamphlets to read from the peace prayer, asking God to take away personal desires and replace them with selfless ideas, or seeking to love instead of to be loved. As the recitation began, a single voice formed from the people, a united plea to God above to make those gathered kinder and wiser than the day before. A feeling of warmth grew as everyone partook in this activity, each of them asking for the same thing under the cloudy blue sky.
At the close, LaurieAnne Wickens played “Taps” on the trumpet. The fist recognizable notes tumbled from the instrument as the silence of the event grew somber. All eyes of the civilians were drawn instinctively drawn to Old Glory waving in the faint breeze while the ROTC cadets remained laser-focused, staring forward as they had the entire time. The sun rose higher into the sky as the music played, the heat growing on the crowd without a word rising from the whole area.
Before leaving, each attendee was called to lay a bright carnation with a long green stem on top of the memorial stone. A line formed, each person silently adding a flower to the colorful tapestry adorning the rock. Slowly, conversation started back up as the crowd dispersed.
For Brother Kevin Kriso, the event marked an improvement in attendance over recent years.
“It’s amazing, largest crowd I’ve seen in years,” said Kriso, who went on to comment on the memory of his friend, the Rev. Mychal Judge, OFM, the New York City Fire Department Chaplain who was the first confirmed death on 9/11.
Kriso came alive describing Judge and how his charisma and energy infected everything he did. With the passage of time, Kriso feels that the national mood around 9/11 has changed.
“In the beginning there was rage," Kriso said. "Now there’s only sadness.”
For Kriso and the rest of America, that sadness may be a sign of healing.