The Innocents

The toxic fumes were heavy, the traffic funereally light. I rode my bicycle up New York’s Tenth Avenue and cut in toward the church. In my backpack I had a Jerusalem Bible and a Kryptonite lock. Around my neck I had a yellow T-shirt, pulled up over my nose and mouth as though I were a pirate, not a lay preacher trying to find a few hundred words for catastrophe.

I was on the way to the weekly meeting of the Community of Sant’Egidio in a church on Manhattan’s West Side. The community’s story has already been told in these pages (see November 18, 1994): its founding in Rome after the worldwide student uprisings of 1968; its growth to thirty thousand members in Italy and another thirty thousand abroad; its mediation during civil wars in Africa; its nightly meetings in Santa Maria in Trastevere, which make the ancient Roman basilica seem like a neighborhood church again.

Our group in New York has half-a-dozen members. We arrange folding chairs in a semicircle in the far corner of the church, beneath a spotlit mosaic of Christ proffering his Sacred Heart. We sing, recite, pray, and petition the Lord-though the expression seems awfully grand for our petitions, which we read from Xeroxed fliers now worn as soft as vellum. One of us reads a Bible text and gives a brief commentary on it.

Wednesday, September 12, it was my turn to preach. The day before, terrorists had struck the World Trade Center and the...

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About the Author

Paul Elie, an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own (FSG), is writing a book about the music of Bach in the age of recordings.