Rev. Rick Del Rio was one of the first clergy to arrive on the scene at Ground Zero.
The founding pastor at Abounding Grace Ministries on the Lower East Side and Community Liaison for Thrive Collective, he recently reflected on the events of 9/11 as the nation commemorated the 22nd anniversary.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Pastor Rick was preparing for a meeting in Midtown Manhattan that was soon canceled because of the terrorist attacks. On television, he saw the World Trade Center towers burning. He wanted to help. He headed downtown on his motorcycle.
“I saw all these people walking north on FDR Drive and they were covered in white soot. I didn’t realize that the second tower had just fallen, maybe 10 minutes before I got there. I saw a fire truck with the cherry top still going. The sidewalk bridge—the bridge that crosses the West Side Highway—was on top of the fire truck.”
“It was surreal. I was walking through the ash. I looked up and I saw the hole where the towers were, and light coming through. And it’s now starting to compute (what has happened). Then I heard an elderly lady calling from Washington Street. And she said, “Somebody help me! My husband’s in a wheelchair.” So I followed her. Took him out to where they were evacuating people…Then I got in a car with the police, and they dropped me off at One Liberty Plaza (which became Zuccotti Park)…I was there until about 2 a.m.”
At Ground Zero, Pastor Rick’s presence helped give hope and peace to first responders and relief workers who were battling through their own trauma on the pile of rubble.
“It was such a dramatic paradox—you had people fleeing for their lives, and you have those that were running in to save lives,” he said.
The next day, September 12, 2001, Pastor Rick, Pastor Marc Rivera, and his son, Jeremy Del Rio, formed the Ground Zero Clergy Task Force (which later became the Northeast Clergy Group). Jeremy Del Rio left his job as an attorney at a New York law firm to work full time in the relief effort and youth work. He was already leading Generation Xcel in Lower Manhattan, and would eventually co-found 20/20 Vision for Schools, which became Thrive Collective in 2014.
In the days following 9/11, the Northeast Clergy Group worked with the mayor’s office, the governor’s office, FEMA, and various local and national organizations to help mobilize resources and aid.
Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, Pastor Rick takes time to reflect. In a YouTube interview with tristatevoice.com, he talked about the events of that day, the response of heroic people, and the resiliency of the city.
Perhaps no one embodies that resiliency more than he does. Five years year ago, Pastor Rick was diagnosed with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer related to his work at Ground Zero.
“I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer back in 2018. They took out the thyroid, they did surgery. You keep battling. But in the midst of all of it, God has been faithful.”
Today, he continues to undergo treatment. And he continues to be a blessing to the people of New York City.
Please join Thrive Collective in keeping Pastor Rick Del Rio in your thoughts and prayers as he fights thyroid cancer.