September 3, 2021

Never forget: Remembering 9/11

Archdiocesan pilgrims found hope amid terror on Sept. 11, 2001

By Sean Gallagher

Around noon on Sept. 11, 2001, Father Patrick Beidelman celebrated Mass on the top floor of a hotel in New Jersey across the East River from Manhattan.

It was just a few hours after terrorist attacks took the lives of 2,606 people in the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

As Father Beidelman led 35 pilgrims from the archdiocese in prayer who were supposed to have left the previous day for a pilgrimage to Austria and Germany, he looked out toward Manhattan and could see an enormous plume of smoke rising from the site of the World Trade Center, which has since become known as ground zero.

Then he sought to share in his homily a message of hope and meaning on a day of unimaginable terror.

“As we gather this day, we make a pilgrimage now into the heart. We ask God to touch our hearts and minds and to be with those who have died, those who are suffering, … those who are worried about family members and those who are grieving the loss of loved ones,” said Father Beidelman, as reported in the Sept. 21, 2001, issue of The Criterion.

“For a variety of reasons, we’ve all been led here, and we gather around this table—now an altar of the Lord—and the Lord invites us to make a pilgrimage into the heart, a pilgrimage of prayer, a pilgrimage of sadness and a pilgrimage that trusts in God’s salvation.”

Twenty years after that fateful day, Father Beidelman can only look to God for the reason why he was able to share such a reassuring message.

“I’m amazed at the grace that I was given at that time to find the words to say something encouraging that connected faith to that moment,” said Father Beidelman in a recent interview with The Criterion. “It felt very chaotic and disorienting. I’m just surprised, knowing how much uncertainty there was in our minds during that time, that God gave me the grace to say something encouraging.”

What’s even more amazing is that Father Beidelman, in 2001 a priest for just three years, only learned on Sept. 8 that he was going to serve as the chaplain for the pilgrimage.

Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, then archdiocesan vicar general, was supposed to have been the chaplain for the pilgrimage. But his father had died in the week before it was to begin.

On the weekend before the pilgrimage, Msgr. William Stumpf, then archdiocesan vicar for clergy, called Father Beidelman to see if he could fill in as chaplain. At the time, Father Beidelman was serving as pastor of St. Michael Parish in Brookville and the former Holy Guardian Angels Parish in Cedar Grove.

Father Beidelman looks back on the events of 20 years ago and is grateful that divine providence helped him “be available for how God needed me and all of us, really, to come to him in prayer and be connected to him, especially through the Mass.”

Carolyn Noone, archdiocesan special events coordinator at the time, had planned the pilgrimage to leave for Europe on Sept. 10.

But bad weather and a construction fire at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., delayed the pilgrims’ departure from Indianapolis long enough that their flight for Europe took off before they arrived in New Jersey.

So, they found lodging late on Sept. 10 in a hotel across the East River from mid-town Manhattan. When Noone woke up on Sept. 11 and saw on television the towers of the World Trade Center on fire, she said to her husband, “ ‘John, is this a movie that we have missed?’ Then we sat there and realized that it was all happening.”

She and the rest of the pilgrims were shocked like much of the rest of the world, except that they were just a few miles from ground zero.

“We didn’t know what to think,” Noone said. “We didn’t know what to do. We were just frozen. What was going to happen next? Should we be here? People were afraid to be anywhere because anything could happen.”

Art Berkemeier shared a hotel room with Father Beidelman on Sept. 10. On the morning of Sept. 11, he saw live on TV the second jetliner strike the second tower.

“Your heart sank right away,” said Berkemeier, a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “You knew that the world had changed at that moment.”

While the pilgrims watched in disbelief the events of that morning, Father Beidelman knew that they needed soon to come together in prayer and hastily organized a Mass.

“Everything was kind of thrown together,” he recalled. “We didn’t even have a Mass kit. I had to go out to a nearby parish and see if they would loan me the things for Mass. I took a taxi. The parish loaned me the stuff, and I came back and had the Mass for our group and another pilgrimage group from Buffalo [N.Y.]”

As Father Beidelman led the pilgrims in prayer, he experienced just how important it was that they come together for worship.

“The anchor of our ritual of prayer gave us something to do, which was the best thing we could do at that moment,” he said. “So, making sure we did it was very important and was something that we had absolute clarity about in the midst of a time of so much uncertainty. We needed to pray, to come together for Mass.”

Berkemeier was glad for the chance to pray together with his fellow pilgrims.

“It was somber,” he recalled. “We prayed very much for the people involved. But we also prayed for our country and our own safety, not knowing the magnitude of what was happening.”

Because all commercial air travel in U.S. airspace was grounded for several days after Sept. 11, the pilgrimage to Europe came to an end before it had hardly begun. The pilgrims made their way back to Indianapolis by motorcoach.

“To put our feet on the ground at home was like, ‘We’re going to be safe. We’re here. We can’t wait to see family and get to our homes and just be safe,’ ” said Noone. “We were so thankful that God was protecting us and helped us get back home.”

Looking back 20 years after the attacks on 9/11, Father Beidelman and Berkemeier recalled enduring lessons they learned that day.

“It strengthened my resolve and commitment to be ready to rise to the occasion,” said Father Beidelman. “That was kind of a premiere moment when I think God’s grace helped me to do that. Sometimes you need to set aside yourself, especially in this circumstance.”

“You learned quickly that life is not permanent,” said Berkemeier. “Life as you know it can change very, very quickly. And not just your personal life, but the life of the country. The whole atmosphere and life of the country can change that quick.

“ … We’re not in charge. God is. Why this happened, we didn’t know. You have to be prepared. You have to be ready at any moment.”

Although Noone was glad to return to Indianapolis with the other pilgrims, the shock of Sept. 11, 2001, and being so close to ground zero that day was difficult for her.

“For weeks and weeks after that, I had horrible nightmares of being trapped in a hotel on a high floor and not being able to get out,” Noone said. “I’d just wake up with terrors. I needed my faith more than ever. All of us did.”

In December 2001, Noone led another archdiocesan pilgrimage group to New York City. In addition to the city’s historic churches, the pilgrims also visited one other holy place: ground zero.

Noone recalled how a police officer who escorted the group’s motorcoach to the site instructed the pilgrims before they left the bus.

“She got on the bus and told us, ‘Do not speak. This is a place of great reverence,’ ”

Noone said. “We went to a viewing balcony. It was overwhelming. You could not help but cry. I don’t know what words could describe it. The sorrow we had for our brethren that we had lost.” †

 

See more of our coverage of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks

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