By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
On September 11, 2001, where were you? I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was teaching my Freshman Seminar Class at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. It was a beautiful sunny day. Right after that all of our classes were suspended. I celebrated the campus mass that day. We prayed for all the victims, for all the first responders and for our nation.
It was a scary day, but it also brought out the best in all of us. The solidarity that emerged in the days after 9/11 was inspirational. The spontaneous gatherings to honor our first responders, firefighters, and police were heartwarming.
President Bush brought us together as a nation reminding us “we must never forget!” When he addressed the nation that day he made everyone feel better and feel that we were connected to each other.
Much has happened these past 20 years since 9/11. The world has changed and so has our nation. Technology has transformed a whole generation. Unfortunately, it is a double-edged sword. In an instant you can have information about anything you desire that would normally take you days and weeks to gather. It has also become in some circumstances a painful distraction. People are obsessed with their cell phones. Communication skills have become weaker. As a teacher, I have found a growing number of my students have inadequate critical thinking and analytical writing skills.
Recently, I took an informal poll of my college students. 90% of more than 100 students acknowledged being on their cell phone more than being engaged in any other activity. Most of them agreed that cell phone use is out of control.
We talked about the need for more human connection and how polarized our nation is. It was amazing to see how many believe that their vote does not matter. We talked about civic engagement, how they are the future leaders of our nation and that they need to become more involved today.
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I was profoundly moved by the words of our former President George Bush at the Shanksville National Memorial in Pennsylvania. He reminded the nation of the need for unity and solidarity; that we need to rediscover the same American spirit that brought us together 20 years ago on that horrific day. He also reminded us that home-grown terrorism is as evil as terrorism around the world because it destroys the fabric of our nation by encouraging violence, hate and destruction.
As we remember 9/11 and the thousands that died on that dark day in American history, let us recommit ourselves to social justice and human rights; let us recognize our greatness in our diversity and our respect for the dignity of all people.
Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.