September 19, 2001 NYPOST.COM: -- LEBANESE Christians in New York are suffering through the World Trade Center tragedy as perhaps no others. Many of them fled war with Muslims in their homeland, only to have the war follow them to America. Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Cathedral in Brooklyn Heights lost six parishioners in last week's events: five in the Twin Towers collapse, one in the Pennsylvania plane crash. Monsignor Ignace Sadek, the cathedral's pastor, is praying for them, and was doing so even before the towers came down. "When someone told me they bombed the World Trade Center, I went out to The Promenade. I thought, 'Somebody has to think of those who are dying,'" Sadek, 70, told me. He gazed in horror across the East River, then gave absolution to those in danger of death. He continued to pray even as the dust cloud engulfed the Brooklyn waterfront. "I was covered with soot, and it was not easy to breathe," he said. "Many people came to me and kneeled before me, asking for absolution. They were trembling. They were very emotional."
There are few in the city more qualified than Sadek to lead a congregation through these days of terror and uncertainty. He knows what people are suffering because he has lived through worse. "On one night in the early 1980s, the shells were terrible, falling on my parish in Lebanon," he said. "I said to myself, 'I am a priest, I must do something.' I parked my car in front of the church and stayed there for three nights, saying rosary after rosary, praying, praying, praying. "During these three days and nights, our parish received 2,000 shells and, believe me, not even one dog was hurt." Sadek said that while the anxiety New Yorkers are living with now is new to them, it is not unique. People the world over live with this, and survive. "You know, the Maronites of Lebanon, every century, one-third of our population has been killed," he said. "But with faith, strength and courage, we survived. This is a big tragedy, but we are going to survive." Sadek came to America in 1987 and has a deep love for his adopted country. Before the recent attacks, he always ended his Masses by saying, "God bless America." After the trade-center attack, he hung an American flag outside the cathedral's door.
"The problem is not too big for this country," he continued. "If this were another country, it would be lost. But this is America." Getting through the present nightmare intact requires New Yorkers to refuse to be cowed by the possibility of death by bombing or terrorist attack, he said. We have to be brave enough to continue our routines. "I remember one day in my village, shells were coming very heavy," the priest said. "One person was walking very slowly, outside on the road. Somebody told him, 'Why don't you run? It's dangerous.' "He said, 'Well, if I run, I may run into a bomb.' So you see, it's a matter of faith, it's a matter of will, it's a matter of confidence." During the Lebanese civil war, a Muslim bomb in a neighborhood outside Beirut killed 80 civilians. Sadek's best friend, the parish priest, had to receive 80 caskets in his church. "He went crazy. They had to send him to Paris to be healed," Sadek said. "He is now the bishop of Aleppo, and a holy, holy man. The people call him a saint." There's a lesson in this, the priest said. From an unfathomable act of war, good can come. In the wake of the atrocities, Sadek sees people starting to think seriously about faith, prayer and holiness. "Many times in my homilies here, I urge people to have faith and sacrifice themselves for the good. I knew it didn't mean anything to them," he said. "Now they're listening, because they know that sanctity can overcome anything." e-mail: