Students flooded local churches and religious organizations turning for comfort following the Sept. 11 tragedies. But, as emotions mollify, church attendance is shrinking back to normal, religious officials said.
“In the days after Sept. 11, attendance at Mass and different activities increased considerably,” said Vincent DeRosa, student minister for spiritual life at the Newman Catholic Student Center. “There were nights after everything happened that we broke the 200 mark.”
“The church was packed,” said sophomore Caitlin McCormick, who attended a Catholic church in Georgetown following the attacks. “It was hard to tell how many were students, but there were 30 people who looked about our age or who were coming from our campus area, maybe more.”
But DeRosa said that the overflow has dwindled. About 150 people students currently attend the services at the Newman Center, he said, although he does not know how many attended before Sept. 11.
Sarah Raful, Student Life coordinator at GW Hillel, said attendance on the Friday following the attacks was up 25 percent at most. But most that has died down since then, she said.
“I’m sure people still think about Sept. 11, but they deal with it in different ways now,” Raful said.
The Muslim Student Association also noticed an increase in attendance at a prayer room in the Marvin Center, but leaders said they are not sure if it can be attributed to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“It’s kind of hard to gauge,” MSA President Sasih Siddiqui said. “We don’t have an account of who is in the prayer room at what time, but I know for a fact there are more people coming this year than last year. I don’t know for a fact if it is because of Sept.11.”
Students filled ceremonies looking for more than just religious guidance after the attacks, Raful said.
“I think people who come for services on any kind of a basis are looking for comfort and support and to be in a community, and that is what we focused on that week,” she said.
DeRosa said there are a number of reasons attendance increased at the Newman Center, which normally draws about 150 people for services.
“A lot of people are scared, and when they are scared they tend to turn back to God in a very real way,” he said. “People are looking for peace, and they have found it in God.”
Siddiqui agreed fear is a large factor in students’ minds right now, particularly for Muslims, even if it does not drive them to pray more.
“For the Muslims, major concerns have been backlash,” he said. “There have been a lot of rumors and hatred towards Muslims – people getting beat up.”
Counselor Robert Cannaday from the Multicultural Student Services Center said there has been no increase in the number of hate crimes on campus.
Siddiqui said he has received more requests for religious counseling, which he refers to the Board of Chaplains because it is more qualified to respond.
“Our first general body meeting was a bit of a support meeting, and ever since then we have handed out numbers for local mosques and counselors for those who need any emotional help or any kind of support,” Siddiqui said.
Even students who are not generally religious said they found themselves attending church following Sept.11.
“It was a respectful thing for the people who died,” said junior Katharine Potaski, who attended a service about a week after the attacks although she said she rarely attends while at school.
“It seemed like what you were supposed to do,” McCormick said. “We just couldn’t handle sitting around watching TV. We needed to actively do something, even if that was just going to church to pray.”
Student who did not attend said they found other sources of comfort after the tragedy.
“It was more comforting to talk about it with my friends and family
than to have some pastor or priest tell me it was God’s plan,” junior Jessica Hess said.
Cannaday said religion could help students overcome tragedy.
“I’m a very optimistic person, and you try to believe good will overcome evil,” Cannaday said. “I hope that people of different races and religions will come together to beat this.”