Pope Francis prayed silently by the south reflecting pool at the 9/11 Memorial in Downtown Manhattan Sept. 25, where bronze plates list the names of the nearly 3,000 children, women and men killed during the terrorist attacks of 1993 and 2001. The pope then placed a white rose at the site and greeted about 20 people, including first responders and victims’ family members.
The brief but solemn moment – which had a contrasting tone to the rest of his apostolic visit – meant a lot for 1,000 people at Memorial Plaza, who had been directly impacted.
Good Shepherd parishioners Mike and Noreen Quinn, who lost their son Jimmy in the World Trade Center, were among them.
“The atmosphere was very peaceful, very spiritual, very different,” Noreen said. “Usually it is heartbreaking and very sad. This was emotional but it was a different type of emotion.”
Her son, Jimmy Quinn, a graduate of Manhattan College and avid Mets fan, worked for the firm Cantor Fitzgerald when his life was taken on 9/11.
“The remains of my son were never found. He was 23 years old. So for us, he is here,” she said. “And for the Holy Father to bless what we consider sacred ground and possibly whatever remains of our son that would be here … We felt privileged to be here.”
Frank Accardi, detective with the Port Authority Police Department, also felt a peacefulness once Pope Francis arrived.
“The pope coming and paying his respects to all the victims who died in 9/11 regardless of their religion,” he said,“…was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
Henrietta Osakue, of Holy Family Church, Flatlands, who saw the pope from her office in the new World Trade Center complex, said the ceremony was moving “because you could tell that he was trying to treat the place sacredly.”
Rosendo Velez, one of the first responders after the attacks who suffered injuries at the World Trade Center, came to the ceremony from Texas after driving for four days.
“This is a cemetery for us. Half of my friends, my brothers and sisters, are here,” he said. “This is something that is etched into all of us who worked here.”
Despite his conflicting feeling seeing Ground Zero now, he said, the fact that Pope Francis wanted to come here “was beautiful.”
“That shows how much he respected this and respected us,” he said.
After the ceremony that honored the victims, Pope Francis entered the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, where he mourned the victims of the “senseless act of destruction” and asked more than 400 religious representatives to be prophets of reconciliation and peace.
Attendees of the multi-religious gathering had been invited to bear witness to peace in the presence of one another.
Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, who planned and participated in the gathering, described it as a “moment of deep emotion.”
He added that the multi-religious gathering was a witness to peace, “showing that we cannot only coexist but be friends and build bridges of dialogue.”
After the event, people were hugging each other, taking pictures and meeting each other across religious division, he said. “It was a powerful fruit of the pope’s visit.”
At the beginning of the gathering, Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue and Imam Khalid Latif, the executive director and chaplain of the Islamic Center at NYU, took turns offering words of reflection and praying for the innocent victims.
Afterward, Pope Francis offered a prayer for remembrance in honor of the victims, and the religious leaders offered meditations on peace in the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Muslim traditions – first in their sacred tongue and then in English. Cantor Azi Schwartz sung a Jewish prayer in honor of the deceased.
In his remarks, the pope said he experienced different emotions standing at Ground Zero.
“Here we mourn the wrongful and senseless loss of innocent lives because of the inability to find solutions which respect the common good,” he said in Spanish.
Msgr. David Cassato, chaplain to the NYC Police Dept. and pastor of St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst, said he was especially moved when all the religious leaders silently remembered the victims and their families.
“It was an inspiring moment; I was almost in tears,” he said. “Pope Francis touched my life with this.”
Rabbi Richard J. Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was impressed by the pope’s message. He added that the cantor had added verses to include the 9-11 victims and first responders to the traditional prayer for the diseased, before asking God to bless Israel and the whole world.
“Here and in the universality of the pope how could he not do it,” he said. “This was not just a memorial but a way of affirming peace.”
Read more about the multi-religious gathering for peace here: Pope at 9/11 Memorial: Violence is Never Impersonal, Always Brings Tears (https://thetablet.org/pope-at-911-memorial-violence-is-never-impersonal-always-brings-tears/)