Every generation, it seems, has at least one – a date that forever marks the calendar of a person’s life. Pearl Harbor Day, the JFK assassination, and 9-11 – ­each one belongs to a generation of people who can recall where they were and how they heard that life-changing news. The anniversaries that continue to follow those iconic dates stir up emotions and thoughts that take us back in memory to those very moments. So it was last week when we observed the 18th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Many of our young people were not even born then, and yet our retelling of the story and the images of that awful event that are once again broadcast on the media bring them into the narrative along with all of us who have personal memories.

Even tragic episodes can occasionally spawn positive results as the Unity Walk that developed here in our community as a result of the tragedy of 9-11. Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and people of many other religious traditions came together to encourage one another, to pray with and for one another, and together to take a symbolic walk into a more hopeful future. I was privileged for the first time to join that traditional walk this year.

While the march was born in response to tragedy, it has taken on a much more important symbolic meaning. We are people who were destined to be together as neighbors and friends on life’s journey.

Washington is filled with many commemorative monuments to the bravery of the countless thousands of Americans who gave their lives in response to the Pearl Harbor attack which brought the United States into the Second World War. Men and women responded with courage and sacrifice to defend our nation and to defeat those whose plans initiated that conflict. Those monuments make us proud of the bravery of those who lost their lives or suffered injury during that global conflict. These special monuments should inspire all of us to love this nation of ours with intensified devotion.

Each time that I now enter Saint Matthew’s Cathedral and gaze upon the commemorative bronze and marble tribute that marks the place where the president’s casket rested and recalls the funeral of President John F. Kennedy held at our cathedral, I am taken back to my adolescence when I watched, along with millions of others, the televised funeral of our first Catholic president of the United States of America. It inspires both pride in his accomplishments and pride in our Church that produced an American statesman and hero taken from us at such a young age.

The deep sorrow that prompted all those individual displays and traditions gave birth to a more profound sense of gratitude for the heroes and heroines whose loss spawned a legacy of hope and pride. As Saint Paul wrote: “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” [Romans 5:20] God can bring great goodness out of human tragedy. The Unity Walk that is still a living tradition here in Washington stands as a reminder of our dedication to intercultural, religious, and racial harmony. While it occurs each year close to the anniversary of 9-11, it is a reminder that we can find new meaning and renewed hope even as the memory of the tragedy that prompted this tradition is now in our past. We believe we are summoned to a brighter future together.