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Sept. 11 victims remembered at St. Anthony Shrine


Father David Convertino, OFM looks on as a man strikes the Bell of Remembrance outside St. Anthony Shrine in Downtown Boston Sept. 11. Pilot photo/Chris Fay

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BOSTON — Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds.

The sound of the Bell of Remembrance reverberated through downtown Boston Sept. 11 and in the hearts of hundreds who came to St. Anthony Shrine throughout the day to pay their respects, offer a prayer, light a candle and remember the men, women and children who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks five years ago.

It was the third consecutive year a Bell of Remembrance made its way to Boston. There are four such bells that have all spent time at Ground Zero and traveled throughout the United States to serve as a reminder to what happened on that day and honor the memory of those who perished.

Outside the shrine on Arch Street, the names of the 2,749 victims were displayed on a 65-foot-long banner that spanned nearly the entire length of the well-known structure. Churchgoers and passersby took note of the blue and white banner, often stopping with tears in their eyes and angst on their faces, to look, remember and relive the 102 minutes that changed America.

From 8:46 a.m. to 10:28 a.m. Father David Convertino, OFM, the executive director and guardian of St. Anthony Shrine, along with community members, rang the 5,000 pound bell in front of the heavily trafficked area at the precise moments Flights 11, 175, 77 and 93 met their intended target of death and destruction, or in the case of the latter, was heroically brought down in a field in Shanksville, Pa. The bell also tolled to mark the minute the Twin Towers crumbled and shattered lives; events that continue to play in our national conscience and psyche five years later.

“I cannot believe it has been five years already,” said Gina Nye, a Boston resident. Nye said she spent several moments inside the shrine to gather her thoughts and pray for the victims before coming outside to hear the tolling of the bell.

“I didn’t think today was really going to be all that different,” said Ryan Orrico of Somerville. “But it’s still so fresh in my mind and hearing the bell as I was walking to work did catch me off guard and made me think about all the innocent people who lost their lives.”

Orrico found the Franciscan words of hope emblazoned on the banner to be a nice touch and repeated a line from the prayer “We Remember Them”: “‘Sept. 11, 2001 will be indelibly inscribed in our memories,’” he said. “We are going to be hurting from that day for a long time.”

Following the morning’s planned events, the bell was left available for all to ring. Kathleen McGinnity, who works in commercial real estate in Boston, said the bells reminded her of returning to her hometown of Quincy on that fateful day five years ago.

“Getting out of the city that day wasn’t easy,” recalled McGinnity. “It was so hectic and the world seemed so chaotic, and when I returned home that evening I’ll never forget the church bells that were chiming throughout my neighborhood.”

As the bell echoed up Arch Street and through Downtown Crossing, more and more people came by — but only for a moment, a solemn moment, to look at the names of ordinary Americans and seeking comfort in sharing in a common bond.

Mayor Thomas Menino, who took part in afternoon commemorations at the shrine, stood side-by-side with Father Convertino and Hilda Gregory, an American Airlines flight attendant who came to remember her colleagues from Flight 11 during a short service outside the shrine.

“St. Anthony’s is the worker’s chapel,” the mayor said. “Father David [Convertino] reaches out to people every day and having this service today at 12:30 allows the working people of this city to pause and reflect on a moment that affected all of us. A lot [of] people knew people who were on the planes or in the buildings and those atrocities should never happen again.”

Mayor Menino added that Father Convertino and the Franciscans at St. Anthony’s have the ability to “bring us back to what we should be focusing on — the hope that the Church gives us in a very fragile world.”

A task made even more difficult, according to Father Convertino, because of Sept. 11’s first officially recorded victim, Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the New York Fire Department and close friend of Father Convertino.

“He had the ability to heal and bring people closer together. Along with his sense of humor that is what I will miss most about him, and what I was reflecting on today as I heard the bells and looked back,” Father Convertino said. “He could always help people and everyone loved him.”

Meanwhile inside — Jesus wept.

It is the shortest passage in the New Testament. Two words. Two powerful words that stood present in the form of a statue at the front of the lower chapel. The depiction of Jesus hiding His face from the congregation was a striking and exceptionally human sight for many. But it is His humanness, said several at the shrine, which allows us to relate and seek comfort in knowing we are not alone. The statue, flanked by the names and photos of the 178 New England residents who lost their lives on Sept. 11, including 78 Massachusetts residents, appeared to invite and comfort worshippers and fellow-mourners.

“You can’t even talk when you look at the pictures,” said Betsy Quinn, a Belmont resident and former Massachusetts General Hospital employee. “It is quite emotional in front of the pictures, but it’s very nice to see so many people coming together on a day like this.” A regular at weekday Mass, Quinn said she believed that “quadruple” the amount of people lined the pews on Monday morning.

Parishioners and visitors alike viewed pictures of the victims, from Anna Allison, 48, a Stoneham native, to John Works, 36, of Connecticut. The picture of two-year-old Christine Lee Hanson of Groton was too much for several observers, while a worn Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal sent by Kevin McCarthy’s 99-year-old mother was deemed “the sweetest thing I have every seen” by one observer.

On Monday, the nation mourned another anniversary; another reminder of the earth shattering events that shook our way of thinking and living. Five years have passed since those 102 minutes of terror, confusion and utter destruction, yet it appears the first entry in a book left outside St. Anthony’s for all to record their thoughts summed up what many are still going through: “The pain is as fresh as ever.”

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