When we scheduled the 16th Annual International Prayer Breakfast for Sept. 11, 2001, who could have known how important prayer would become on that dreadful day? As 225 of us sat in the delegates' dining room of the UN that morning, the city outside was under siege already. Our guest speaker, Dr. Miroslav Volf of Croatia, reminded us that the "will to embrace even an enemy is at the heart of reconciliation, peace, and hope. Minutes later, we learned what was happening at the World Trade Center and realized how significant this message would be in the months and years to come.
Some headlines called it "The Day the World Changed." I am certain that it was the day my life changed. The events of that morning challenged my view of God and my view of humanity. Until then, I had led a life that was largely insulated from evil, particularly as it confronted us that day.
In the immediate aftermath, I was compelled to help, going often to Ground Zero to offer spiritual care. I bought a priest's collar so that I could be recognized, I hoped, as a source of life and healing in the midst of the death and destruction. I went to Ground Zero wearing my new "shirt." A group of exhausted, hardened steel workers who had labored unselfishly for about 40 hours straight to free possible survivors saw me and called me over, saying, "Father, come bless us." I said, "Please call me Michael. I'd be glad to pray with you, but God is the One who blesses." We held hands and bowed our heads as we called on Jesus to give us strength and hope.
In the days that followed, I walked alongside a New York City cop who cried as we moved away from the "pile." He had lost close friends.
In the months that followed, I attended funerals and memorial events. I shared the pain that filled the mother's heart who would never again see her son, and the husband who lost his wife forever. I looked into the tear-filled eyes of the young teenager whose father was an innocent passenger on the United Airline flight that decimated one of the towers. I weep even now as I remember her grief.
In the midst of this death, darkness, and despair, there were also the stories of life and light and hope-the "miracle stories." One man I met was rescued alive in the stairwell. Another's taxi got stuck in traffic and arrived late to the World Trade Center. My neighbor decided not to go to a conference at the towers. And there was the invalid widow who had depended on her caregiving husband but after his death prayed daily for Osama bin Laden to become a Christian.
And there were the sacrifices and generosity of so many Christian organizations and volunteers who, like me, offered the little that we could to stand against the evil. We were lifted up by the international solidarity of good will-spontaneous memorials that grew around churches and political centers around the world, like the Russian flag flying at half-mast in Moscow.
I now live in London, but Ground Zero is never far away. I find that the pain is still just below the surface. I can't really say that I am much closer to understanding why God allows evil and suffering, but I have a stronger conviction that God wants me to be involved in it, to do something about it.
-Michael Leary is the executive director of Christian Embassy in London after serving as the deputy director of Christian Embassy in New York for nearly 20 years.