After his Friday meeting with loved ones of fallen first responders to the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, the Holy Father said he was reminded that violence can never be impersonal.
“In those family members, we see the face of pain, a pain which still touches us and cries out to heaven,” he said during an interreligious prayer event at Ground Zero Sept. 25.
He reflected that “acts of destruction are never impersonal, abstract or merely material.” Rather, “(t)hey always have a face, a concrete story, names.”
Even in the face of so much suffering, these same family members showed him “the power of love and remembrance.”
“The name of so many loved ones are written around the towers’ footprints. We can see them, we can touch them, and we can never forget them.”
At Ground Zero, the Roman Pontiff said there was also a “palpable sense of the heroic goodness”
“Hands reached out, lives were given. In a metropolis which might seem impersonal, faceless, lonely, you demonstrated the powerful solidarity born of mutual support, love and self-sacrifice,” he said. “No one thought about race, nationality, neighborhoods, religion or politics. It as all about solidarity, meeting immediate needs, brotherhood.”
“New York City firefighters walked into the crumbling towers, with no concern for their own wellbeing. Many succumbed; their sacrifice enabled great numbers to be saved.”
In this way, what was at one moment “a place of death” became “a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.”
Being able to represent Christianity along with other world religions at the site is “a source of great hope,” he said. “I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice.”
“For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace. In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religions, and lift our voices against everything which would stand in the way of such unity.”
Such peace can come about if we reject “rigid uniformity” and embrace diversity.
“This can only happen if we uproot from our heart all feelings of hatred, vengeance and resentment,” the Holy Father said. “We know that this is only possible as a gift from heaven.”
He led those gathered in a moment of silent prayer, and then continued, saying that if we strive for peace, our deceased loved ones will never be forgotten.
“Instead, they will be present whenever we strive to be prophets not of tearing down but of building up, prophets of reconciliation, prophets of peace,” Pope Francis concluded.
Prominent religious leaders from around New York City were also present to mourn and make an appeal for peace.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York welcomed the Holy Father to the event saying, “We in New York are sinners; we have a lot of flaws and make a lot of mistakes.”
“But, one of the things we do well is sincere and fruitful inter-religious friendship! Our ancestors came here for religious freedom, and they found in New York City an atmosphere of respect and appreciation for religious diversity.”
NYU Muslim chaplain Khalid Latif said, “Intolerance and ignorance fueled those who attacked this place,” adding that “to God all life is sacred and precious. Where others fail, let us be the peaceful reminders of that notion to his creation.”
He and Elliot Cosgrove, rabbi of Park Avenue Synagogue, offered a joint reflection on peace, and prayed for the souls of those who were killed.
“In this place, where horrendous violence was committed falsely in the name of God, we, representatives of the world religions in this great city of New York, gather to offer words of comfort and prayer,” Cosgrove said.
By becoming, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi, instruments of peace, we honor those who were killed, he said.
Even as “the worst of humanity” attacked our country that day, “the best of humanity” — in the form of the first responders — sought to save life, Latif said.
The Holy Father then offered a “prayer of remembrance” for all those killed that day, along with a prayer for the survivors and those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones.
He asked God to “bring peace to our violent world,” especially to those “whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred and who justify killing in the name of religion.”
“Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope,” Pope Francis prayed, “and give us the wisdom and courage where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.”
After that, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, and Muslim reflections on peace were offered, followed by a bell toll after each.
The Holy Father was then led to the room at the 9/11 Memorial Museum that holds the piece of steel recovered from Ground Zero that was left in the shape of a cross, along with a Bible found at the site.