9-11 man bent in prayer

A 9-11 Prayer.

On Sunday, Sept 16, 2001, five days after the Twin Towers fell, I sat in my church basement surrounded by a circle of children ages five through around nine. That day, I was responsible for the children’s liturgy of the Catholic Mass, a role I filled five or six times a year. The kids came down with me at the beginning of Mass, we said the prayers that were part of the liturgy, read the scripture readings and the Gospel, and did an activity to help them understand the crux of The Word.

I was still numb from the events of the week. We live about three hours north of New York City, and I didn’t lose anyone personally in the tragedies, but many people in our community had close ties to NYC. Many people lost loved ones. And every American, regardless of where they lived, was hurting.

What kind of world will our children grow up in?

Looking around at the children’s innocent faces, I thought, “What kind of world are they growing up in?”

My own sons Stephen and Matthew, ten and fifteen, respectively, sat upstairs with my husband, Mike. What kind of world were they growing up in?”

Their world now included a stay-at-home mother, a recent choice for our family that we hoped would help smooth Matthew’s bumpy recovery from his brain tumor. We weren’t well off, but I realized our privilege of living on one salary, and not a day went by that I didn’t give thanks for it.

Although I had planned my lesson for that morning, I didn’t feel prepared. How does one reconcile faith in a loving God with the horrors of 9-11? The question was too big to answer, so I started small, with a pinprick.

During the Prayers of the Faithful, Catholic Mass-goers may offer their own silent prayers. At the children’s liturgy, we said them aloud.

I always went first so the kids got the idea. Typically, I said something like, “I pray for my friend, who lost her job, that she’ll find a new job she loves.” Or, “I pray for people who don’t have enough to eat, that tonight they go to bed with a full belly.”

That day, I had a special 9-11 prayer. I prayed for Osama Bin Laden.

In the previous days, I had thought about this intention, wondering if the kids would even notice or recognize the strange name. If they did, would there be backlash from parents? How can you pray for that monster? I imagined a voice on the phone might demand.

But I wasn’t praying for Bin Laden’s well-being or for the salvation of his soul. I didn’t wish him well. In fact, I wanted him dead.

What I prayed for was a tiny miracle.

A 9-11 prayer for a miracle.

“I pray for Osama Bin Laden. Do you know who that is?” I asked, looking around the circle. Most of the kids nodded, whether they knew or not, I suspected.

“He’s a very bad person,” I continued. “So, I pray for a tiny pinprick to open in his heart so that God’s love can enter and grow, getting rid of all the bad thoughts.”

It’s a prayer I’ve said many times about many “very bad” people.

Every child is born full of goodness, I believe. Circumstances of life allow the goodness to grow or to be squashed by anger, fear, sadness, hopelessness, and sometimes, evil. A person’s circumstances don’t justify their committing crimes or mistreating others, and I believe everyone should be held accountable for their actions.

I can’t change a person’s circumstances in retrospect, but I can pray for a miracle. So I did. And no one complained.

I’ve since wandered away from the Catholic Church, and my current beliefs don’t fit the mold of any organized religion. But my faith is strong—in a God who goes by many earthly names and is envisioned by humans in many forms and genders. And I have faith in the goodness of people, in the power of simple acts of kindness, and in our purpose on this earth to love.

The losses of 9-11 are enormous: Loved ones, neighbors, colleagues. Physical and mental health. Housing and belongings. Employment and a way of life. Security. Normalcy. Hope.

Whatever you lost that day, I hold your pain in my heart. And I say a different 9-11 prayer for you, hoping for a different miracle–a miracle that floods you with light, with strength, with hope, with love.

I will never forget.

If you know someone who could use a prayer today, please share or forward.


  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

    View all posts


  1. Anna Marie Valentini Boggia Sepe on September 12, 2021 at 1:48 PM

    Thank You
    Your Cousin
    Anna Marie Valentini Boggia Sepe
    My Parents and I practice our faith pretty much the same… You’ll LOVE WNRI.com
    Thursday’s at 9:05 o’clock in the Morning
    I’m not sure if you knew my Mother… Your Husband and Family knew her well
    Heartfelt Stories and Music
    God’s Blessings

    • Karen DeBonis on September 12, 2021 at 6:30 PM

      Your comments came through just fine – thanks Anna Marie. I never did meet your mother, much to my disappointment. She was a wonderful woman and mother, based on what I know about her children. 🙂 Blessings back to you.

  2. Sam Ciraulo on September 12, 2021 at 1:56 PM

    Beautiful, anecdote Karen (those children were blessed to have you leading their Liturgy during that awful time) and timely reflection on the world we unfortunately still live in today, 20 years after.

    This is really none of my business, but as a practicing Catholic, I cannot help what it was that caused your “drift”. I’m really not looking for an answer, again not my business, but Catholicism is such a beautiful religion… I would like to ask you to please ponder my question and should you wish to resume practicing in the Catholic tradition, Loretta and I would be glad to welcome you, and Michael to our Liturgy at Sacred Heart at any time.

    • Karen DeBonis on September 12, 2021 at 6:32 PM

      Sam, I truly appreciate your offer and your comment here. They mean a lot to me. My “wandering away” is too complicated to get into here, but perhaps someday on the porch or in front of a fire…

  3. Sima on September 12, 2021 at 2:34 PM

    Well said my friend!!

  4. Jack Herlocker on September 12, 2021 at 5:34 PM

    Nicely done, Karen! I’m going to forward the link to your post to our pastors; if they use it for something I’ll let you know.

    • Karen DeBonis on September 12, 2021 at 6:35 PM

      You deserve a medal for literary citizenship, Jack. Your pastors may not find anything meaningful in my words, but the fact that you do means the world to me. Thank you.

  5. Casey Mulligan Walsh on September 15, 2021 at 9:46 AM

    A beautiful post about such a difficult topic, Karen. You echo my thoughts exactly in so many spots here. Thank you for this.

    • Karen+DeBonis on September 16, 2021 at 10:35 AM

      Thanks so much for reading and for your comment, Casey. It is a difficult topic, and I’m glad this resonates with you.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.