Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Night of Love in New York City as Fr George Rutler Remembers 9/11

Mme Lejuene addressed the gathering. 
I had just finished radiation for a melanoma in my eye, but I was determined not to miss an opportunity to meet with my friends at the Lejeune USA reception at the French Embassy in New York City. Tired from the treatments, I travelled from Boston with my daughter's help. We arrived in the warm summer rain, stopping for a slice of authentic New York pizza on our way to the French Embassy on Central Park East. We walked past elegant designer shops featuring cocktail dresses and bridal gowns, umbrellas aloft, until we were welcomed into the majestic building across from the Park.
At first, my daughter and I were awestruck by the Embassy's elegance: soaring, frescoed ceilings, marble foyers, and dramatic two story windows framed by velvet draperies. Waiters proffered champagne flutes and savory hors d'oeuvres. World-renowned scientists chatted with businessmen and clergy while well-dressed children whose almond eyes bore the signature of an extra chromosome, darted between adults.

But what instantly made me feel at home was the love which which permeated the gathering.

Dr William Mobley and LeticiaVelasquez.
Dr William Mobley mentioned it when he discussed his award winning research to overcome the cognitive delays inherent with Down syndrome. In her years at school, my 11 year old daughter Christina lost her ability to speak fluently, and has only learned to read nine words due to these delays, so I expected to hear a detailed scientific discussion about his research. But this night, I heard him talk about the love our children have shared with us, and how we learned from them how to give love. I saw Lejeune USA Pressident Mark Bradford and French Foundation director Thierry de la Villejegu who fiercely embraced me and thanked me for my writing.  I understood, we were united in this intense emotion because we loved our children and wanted them to have the best in their lives, and to make certain that more babies are born to live out the lives God intends them to lives as we give expectant mothers hope for their children's future.

Love was indeed the theme that evening. Those of us who have worked to support the research and improve the public understanding of Down syndrome, separately met, shook hands and became friends. I was honored to thank, once again, the widow of my hero, Dr Jerome Lejeune,
Mme Lejeune and Leticia.

Madame Berthe Lejeune, for her sacrifice as the wife behind the great man during his lifetime, and as the President of Fondation Lejeune after his death. I met columnist and fathers of daughters with Down syndrome, Matthew Hennessy, and Kurt Kondrich, and was able to thank Stephanie Hall Meredith for her work with The Human Development Institute.
 I had very little time to meet everyone there who has done great work advocating for those with Down syndrome, but the man I met as we left the Embassy surprised me by his presence.

Fr George Rutler, so impressive in his EWTN series "Christ in the City" was quietly waiting for his coat when I boldly asked him the question which had been on my mind every anniversary of 9/11. "Father, I heard that you gave general absolution to the first responders entering the Twin Towers on 9/11. Is that true?" He looked at me a bit startled at the question, seemly out of nowhere,  then his eyes took a distant look as he began to relive the tragic events which he witnessed firsthand as a priest in New York City who instantly rushed to the scene.

 I quickly regretted reviving those painful memories, as a tear welled up in his eye, but he didn't seem to mind recalling that day, painful as it was. He affirmed that he had indeed given wartime absolution to those entering the Towers, because, as he said, we were at war, suddenly and unexpectedly in our own land. But Fr Rutler refused to dwell on his own vital, soul-saving role in the events of that tragic day. He told me the moving story of the heroism of Fr Mychal Judge, who was killed while hearing the confessions of first responders entering the Towers to their deaths. He recalled how Fr Judge's body was laid at the foot of the altar of old St Patrick's Cathedral downtown, his spilled blood still flowing down the marble steps. A true alter Christus, offering himself to the last drop of blood for Christ's body, the Church. These two priests, like the crowd in the Embassy were about love. Love which doesn't count the cost as it " bears all things, hopes all things. believes all things." (ICor:13:7)
Gabriela and Leticia Velasquez, Mme Lejeune, Dr Elizabeth Rex.
We walked to the subway that evening, quietly reflective in the drumming of the rain on our umbrellas, wishing we knew of an open church to ponder the depth of this evening. We had been in the presence of true heroes, people whose first thought was of giving their time, their treasure, and their very lives for the good of others. My daughter who is becoming a nurse and I were fortunate to have been embraced by such company and rededicated our
efforts in the service of those beautiful people whom God had given us to bless our families.

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