Where there is darkness

When I read that New York's Mayor Bloomberg delivered yesterday's speech (rightly praised by Eduardo Penalver, below) with several religious leaders standing at his side, I wondered whether the group included a Catholic representative. (That's aside from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, of course.) The photos answered my question right away: the fellow in the brown robe just behind Bloomberg is Fr. Brian Jordan, OFM, a Franciscan of the Holy Name Province.

Photo by Edward Reed

(Photo by Edward Reed.)

The press release from the mayor's office identifies him with St. Francis of Assisi, a church on 31st Street in Manhattan, but I believe he is presently in residence at Holy Name on 96th Street. Their Web site says, "Father Brian is the official chaplain for the Building Trades and Construction Unions of New York City." He also served as a chaplain at the WTC site -- he is mentioned among "The Priests of September 11, 2001" in this essay on the USCCB's vocations Web site -- and it was he who blessed the "World Trade Center Cross." He has apparently been advocating the inclusion of that cross in the memorial planned for the WTC site (just one of many controversies that have grown out of the project), so it's not surprising that he would be able to recognize the difference between what's actually being built at "Ground Zero" and what's being built elsewhere in the neighborhood.

That cross is now on display at the Catholic Church of St. Peter, not far from the WTC site. The mayor mentioned St. Peter's in his speech, and those remarks might be of particular interest to Catholics:

Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that, even here in a City that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years.(...) In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780s: St. Peters on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

St. Peter's is also where Elizabeth Seton was received into the Catholic Church. So I'm turning to Mother Seton with my prayers for peace in that neighborhood...along with St. Francis, of course.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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