9/11 Workers, Families Hold Last Midnight Mass at Ground Zero

Updated: 12-25-2007 07:21:12 AM

Associated Press Writer


The first midnight Mass at ground zero happened while workers were still clearing away the debris of the fallen twin towers and recovering bodies from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

The last Mass was held Monday night, giving police, firefighters, ground zero workers and Sept. 11 families a final chance to pray on Christmas Eve at the site, where intensifying construction is taking up more and more open space.

"It was poignant, it was moving, it was uplifting," the Rev. Brian Jordan said after the service ended early Tuesday. A chaplain for the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council, he spent 10 months at ground zero after the attacks and has since officiated at every midnight Mass at the World Trade Center site.

"A lot of us felt sad this was the last official midnight Mass on-site, but at the same time, there was a sense of relief. This brought closure for us," Jordan said.

About 75 people attended the Mass, Jordan said. A sanitation worker who was involved in the ground zero cleanup and has sung at each year's service rendered "God Bless America" and the Christmas hymn "O Holy Night."

Jordan carried a chalice dedicated to the memory of the Rev. Mychal Judge, a police chaplain killed while performing last rites on victims' bodies outside the trade center.

More than 150 people attended the first Mass in 2001, while thousands of workers were still removing the towers' debris and searching for bodies. "One hour before, we found the body of a fireman," Jordan said.

Since then, some victims' families have come to the site every year and said a prayer for their loved ones. Several police commanders and firefighters have never missed a year.

"I see the healing that it does," said Frank Silecchia, a construction worker who has gone to every service but one. "It's like a pilgrimage."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, has moved the service at times from one part of the site to another, depending on construction activities. Officials hope to open five office towers, a transit hub and a Sept. 11 memorial there within the next five years.

Jordan said he decided to make this service the last after Port Authority officials told him that heavier construction would make it impossible to continue the tradition in 2008. Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman disputed that on Monday, saying a spot would be found if Jordan wanted to hold future services at the site.

Jordan said he felt the time had come for the tradition to end, but the sense of connection it forged would endure.

"It's just time to move on," he said. "We didn't say goodbye or farewell - we said, 'Until another time.'"


Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this story.