Phyllis and Orlando Rodríguez’s Journey Toward Peace and Reconciliation

By Maylee Sands

On the morning of Sept.11, 2001, millions of Americans began their commute to work. Greg Rodríguez, an employee at Cantor Fitzgerald, was no exception; he was one of thousands of New Yorkers who entered the North Tower of the World Trade Center eager to begin his day.

It was 8:45 a.m. when the North Tower was struck by hijacked American Airlines Flight 11. Shortly thereafter at 9:03 a.m., a second hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 175, slammed into the South Tower.

The nightmare persisted—at 9:37 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and at 10:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, PA.

In Our Son's NameSince that devastating day, world security, nationalism, and the emergence of the “War on Terror” became the forefront of international discourse. Militaristic action overseas defined the U.S. government’s response to 9/11. The goals of the U.S. were to identify and defeat terrorists groups in order to secure national safety and defend U.S. interests overseas. Violence, unrest, and destruction characterize the events that have unfolded in the Middle East in the name of justice and security.

While combat ensued, the impact of the ongoing violence affected families on both sides of the war. Greg’s parents, Phyllis and Orlando, are just one of thousands of families who’s loved one’s life has been tragically cut short.

Phyllis and Orlando have dedicated their lives to memorializing Greg through the documentary “In Our Son’s Name,” which reveals Phyllis and Orlando’s path as they search for hope, solidarity, and peace in the midst of the aftermath that 9/11 has caused their family and the world.

Last night, the world premiere of their documentary screened in Fordham University’s Keating Auditorium. Phyllis, Orlando, and the film’s director, Gayla Jamison, held a panel discussion following the film. They hope this film will gain exposure in classrooms and film festivals across the nation.

Phyllis and Orlando strongly advocate against the use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan; rather, they wish to spread the message of nonviolence and discourse to find peaceful resolutions. Vengeful retaliation fueled by super-patriotism portrays the nation’s attitude and culture in response to 9/11, they claim. However, the Rodríguez’s believe violent revenge is a mistake. Rather than reacting with violence, they hope to deliver the message of peace and understanding.

Their commitment toward restorative justice is evident through Phyllis’ involvement with Westchester Martin Luther King, Jr., Institute for Nonviolence and participating in workshops at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Orlando is a sociology and criminology professor at Fordham University, where he teaches a Peace and Justice Studies course called “Global Conflict: War and Religion.” He also teaches Sociology of Religion at Green Haven Correctional Facility.

In Our Son's Name
Panelists speak following the Feb. 24 screening of “In Our Son’s Name.”

In an interview by 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Phyllis acknowledges, “All suffering is equal. My son’s death is not worth more than an Afghan’s death or an Iraqi’s.” The Rodríguez’s hope to bridge the gap of differing nationalities and ideologies and stand together as human beings all touched by unrest and violence.

“To see the other person as human being, you free yourself of victimhood,” Phyllis says.

As bereaved mothers, Phyllis and Aicha el-Wafi formed an unusual friendship and bond, shaped by their devastating experiences. At the end of the day, Aicha—the mother of convicted 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui—must live without her son, and this reality is one that Phyllis empathizes and relates to.

Phyllis and Aicha’s friendship symbolized the powerful and humbling effect of forgiveness and answering hatred with love. Understanding the common tragedy that bonds each person and realizing the humanity within even in such events like 9/11 is critical, according to the two mothers.

“I hope our story gives people hope and empowers them to follow their conscious,” Phyllis says. “Living with hatred and anger is self- destructive.”

Concluding the evening, Orlando turned to the Fordham community, expressing that it is the responsibility of the entire community—not just his family and others who have been directly affected—to spread the message of peaceful reconciliation, compassion, and humanity.

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