RELIGION Students Seek Spiritual Answers After Attacks Georgetown Religious Community Offers Solace Following Sept. 11 By Colin Relihan Hoya Staff Writer

Charles Nailen/The Hoya The Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent war in Afghanistan have prompted religious questioning and introspection among students.

As Georgetown students slowly return to normal after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, their levels of involvement in the university’s religious life are also returning life to normal. However, according to various members of Campus Ministry, the spiritual questions raised by the strikes remain.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, students, faculty and staff came out in large numbers to attend various prayer gatherings, vigils and interfaith services. Many students who rarely went to religious services came to many of these events. Some merely were looking for a sense of consolation during the uncertain period.

“People were going to [the services] for comfort,” Annie Witten (SFS ’03) said. “The reason it was comforting was to see everyone there.”

Bolstering community feelings at Georgetown emerged as an important reason for gathering after the attacks, regardless of any religious convictions.

“I was really impressed by all the services Campus inistry was doing,” Kristen Beard (SFS ’02) said. “There were all faiths . I was really impressed by the inclusion of the Muslim Student Association.”

Witten agreed. “Since the attacks happened, people are much more willing to make an effort to be united as a campus.”

Other individuals described their initial reactions in a more directly religious nature.

“I think in a time of crisis, we look for help, and the best help is a higher power,” Robert Perry (GRD ’04) said.

According to Hugh Brown, a part-time Protestant minister with Campus Ministry, the desire for comfort in a time of crisis is closely related to the questioning of spiritual values.

“[Students are] just all over the place emotionally and spiritually . I don’t think you can separate spirituality and emotional health.”

Even so, when talking to students, one discovers a difference in perceptions of religion, or at least in terminology, after the strikes. Some have turned more to formal religious services as a result.

“For someone like me, you don’t have to be a strict, devout follower to go to Mass to find meaning,” Steve deMan (COL ’04) said.

Beard has discussed the theological and spiritual implications of the attacks with friends, asking “how that fits in with my idea of how the world works in general from a spiritual point of view.”

Conversely, other students, like Nick Mele (COL ’05) didn’t attend any services following the attacks and said his “friends who were religious didn’t really go to the services either.”

“There hasn’t been a surge of religious fervor,” Witten said.

Since Sept. 11, members of Campus Ministry and the Jesuit community have spent much of their time attending to the spiritual, as well as the emotional, needs of students. Priests and ministers have addressed the attacks in homilies, while others have discussed with students ethical and moral questions relating to the attacks.

“One of the things about religion is that it gives us a way to speak at a moment like that,” Kevin Wildes, S.J., bioethics professor and chaplain-in-residence on New South’s fourth floor, said. Brown agreed, adding that he has talked with several students, both after Sunday services and during Bible study sessions, about the moral and theological implications of the attacks.

“Do we respond through a just war perspective or through a nonviolence perspective?” Brown asked, referring to some of the questions posed to him by inquiring students.

Other religious figures on campus have also addressed the topic of the terrorist attacks while preaching to members of the Georgetown community. However, according to Thomas King, S.J., and Pat Conroy, S.J., they have mentioned the topic of the strikes during services, but have had very few personal encounters with individual students asking about the events of Sept 11 attacks.

“I am available for people,” Conroy said. “So far, I have not experienced any one on one ministry. People who have one on one issues are probably going to CAPS [Counseling and Psychiatric Services].”

After the immediate outpouring of support in various services held by Campus Ministry and other groups in the week following the attacks, signs of an overt change in religious attitudes or involvement remain difficult to find.

Many students do remain, even as the crisis has abated, involved in religious activity on campus. However, according to several priests at Georgetown, religious involvement was always high at Georgetown and did not emerge as a result of the terrorist strikes.

For example, according to King and Conroy, Mass attendance for their 11:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Sunday services remains high; however, Dahlgren Chapel had been filled for each Mass even before the attacks.

Conroy referred to one major difference among Georgetown students during the crisis, calling it the “impulse to community” among individuals of all faiths and religions. “There were a lot of Catholics who went to Muslim and Jewish services,” as well as Muslims and Jews who participated in various Christian gatherings, Conroy said.

Whatever the outward displays of faith and religion may be among students, various members of Georgetown’s religious community agreed that the attacks raised new spiritual challenges and questions for everyone, but particularly younger Americans.

“[This college’s] generation is the first generation since 1914 to grow up with significant prosperity and with significant peace,” Wildes said. “That’s changed now.”

Other priests and ministers echoed this sentiment, adding that this newfound sense of vulnerability has forced students and others throughout the country to confront philosophical and spiritual questions left unasked before.

“Everyone feels vulnerable in a way that Americans were able to avoid before,” Conroy said. “That raises questions of meaning: What is the meaning of life? Is there a greater power? Whenever we are faced with our own limitations, those are the natural questions people would ask.”

More than merely a feeling of vulnerability, the deaths of thousands coupled with the fear that more attacks may follow have caused people to question their own ideas about mortality, life and death, according to King.

“We can get a sense that we’re not going to die . and I think this is a way of letting us know that we never know.”

When asked, most of the priests and ministers questioned said the events of Sept. 11 bring out these questions and push them to the forefront. While some students participate directly in religious services or some formoutward spiritual expression, people in general, students included, find various ways to articulate their concerns over these weighty and, after Sept. 11, increasingly influential topics.

“Life, the meaning of life and death are essential to any religious tradition,” Wildes said. “Each one of us finds our meaning through the experience of those questions.” King agreed.

“This is our country, and this should be in your prayer, no matter how you pray.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.

RELIGION Students Seek Spiritual Answers After Attacks Georgetown Religious Community Offers Solace Following Sept. 11 By Colin Relihan Hoya Staff Writer

Charles Nailen/The Hoya The Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent war in Afghanistan have prompted religious questioning and introspection among students.

As Georgetown students slowly return to normal after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, their levels of involvement in the university’s religious life are also returning life to normal. However, according to various members of Campus Ministry, the spiritual questions raised by the strikes remain.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, students, faculty and staff came out in large numbers to attend various prayer gatherings, vigils and interfaith services. Many students who rarely went to religious services came to many of these events. Some merely were looking for a sense of consolation during the uncertain period.

“People were going to [the services] for comfort,” Annie Witten (SFS ’03) said. “The reason it was comforting was to see everyone there.”

Bolstering community feelings at Georgetown emerged as an important reason for gathering after the attacks, regardless of any religious convictions.

“I was really impressed by all the services Campus inistry was doing,” Kristen Beard (SFS ’02) said. “There were all faiths . I was really impressed by the inclusion of the Muslim Student Association.”

Witten agreed. “Since the attacks happened, people are much more willing to make an effort to be united as a campus.”

Other individuals described their initial reactions in a more directly religious nature.

“I think in a time of crisis, we look for help, and the best help is a higher power,” Robert Perry (GRD ’04) said.

According to Hugh Brown, a part-time Protestant minister with Campus Ministry, the desire for comfort in a time of crisis is closely related to the questioning of spiritual values.

“[Students are] just all over the place emotionally and spiritually . I don’t think you can separate spirituality and emotional health.”

Even so, when talking to students, one discovers a difference in perceptions of religion, or at least in terminology, after the strikes. Some have turned more to formal religious services as a result.

“For someone like me, you don’t have to be a strict, devout follower to go to Mass to find meaning,” Steve deMan (COL ’04) said.

Beard has discussed the theological and spiritual implications of the attacks with friends, asking “how that fits in with my idea of how the world works in general from a spiritual point of view.”

Conversely, other students, like Nick Mele (COL ’05) didn’t attend any services following the attacks and said his “friends who were religious didn’t really go to the services either.”

“There hasn’t been a surge of religious fervor,” Witten said.

Since Sept. 11, members of Campus Ministry and the Jesuit community have spent much of their time attending to the spiritual, as well as the emotional, needs of students. Priests and ministers have addressed the attacks in homilies, while others have discussed with students ethical and moral questions relating to the attacks.

“One of the things about religion is that it gives us a way to speak at a moment like that,” Kevin Wildes, S.J., bioethics professor and chaplain-in-residence on New South’s fourth floor, said. Brown agreed, adding that he has talked with several students, both after Sunday services and during Bible study sessions, about the moral and theological implications of the attacks.

“Do we respond through a just war perspective or through a nonviolence perspective?” Brown asked, referring to some of the questions posed to him by inquiring students.

Other religious figures on campus have also addressed the topic of the terrorist attacks while preaching to members of the Georgetown community. However, according to Thomas King, S.J., and Pat Conroy, S.J., they have mentioned the topic of the strikes during services, but have had very few personal encounters with individual students asking about the events of Sept 11 attacks.

“I am available for people,” Conroy said. “So far, I have not experienced any one on one ministry. People who have one on one issues are probably going to CAPS [Counseling and Psychiatric Services].”

After the immediate outpouring of support in various services held by Campus Ministry and other groups in the week following the attacks, signs of an overt change in religious attitudes or involvement remain difficult to find.

Many students do remain, even as the crisis has abated, involved in religious activity on campus. However, according to several priests at Georgetown, religious involvement was always high at Georgetown and did not emerge as a result of the terrorist strikes.

For example, according to King and Conroy, Mass attendance for their 11:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Sunday services remains high; however, Dahlgren Chapel had been filled for each Mass even before the attacks.

Conroy referred to one major difference among Georgetown students during the crisis, calling it the “impulse to community” among individuals of all faiths and religions. “There were a lot of Catholics who went to Muslim and Jewish services,” as well as Muslims and Jews who participated in various Christian gatherings, Conroy said.

Whatever the outward displays of faith and religion may be among students, various members of Georgetown’s religious community agreed that the attacks raised new spiritual challenges and questions for everyone, but particularly younger Americans.

“[This college’s] generation is the first generation since 1914 to grow up with significant prosperity and with significant peace,” Wildes said. “That’s changed now.”

Other priests and ministers echoed this sentiment, adding that this newfound sense of vulnerability has forced students and others throughout the country to confront philosophical and spiritual questions left unasked before.

“Everyone feels vulnerable in a way that Americans were able to avoid before,” Conroy said. “That raises questions of meaning: What is the meaning of life? Is there a greater power? Whenever we are faced with our own limitations, those are the natural questions people would ask.”

More than merely a feeling of vulnerability, the deaths of thousands coupled with the fear that more attacks may follow have caused people to question their own ideas about mortality, life and death, according to King.

“We can get a sense that we’re not going to die . and I think this is a way of letting us know that we never know.”

When asked, most of the priests and ministers questioned said the events of Sept. 11 bring out these questions and push them to the forefront. While some students participate directly in religious services or some formoutward spiritual expression, people in general, students included, find various ways to articulate their concerns over these weighty and, after Sept. 11, increasingly influential topics.

“Life, the meaning of life and death are essential to any religious tradition,” Wildes said. “Each one of us finds our meaning through the experience of those questions.” King agreed.

“This is our country, and this should be in your prayer, no matter how you pray.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.