The Holy Father blesses the site of the Sept. 11 memorial
Before presiding over an interreligious memorial service during his busy day in New York City, Pope Francis spent a few minutes outside the 9/11 Memorial Museum praying for all those who died in the terrorist attacks 14 years ago and greeting many family members who lost loved ones that day.
The solemn affair lasted only a few minutes, with Pope Francis standing with his head bent next to the South Pool. After he finished praying, he spent time in what he would call a moment of encounter, shaking the hands of and speaking with 18 family members of 10 families in the 9/11 community.
“The water we see flowing toward that empty pit remind us of all those lives" lost in 2001, he said. "The flowing water is also a symbol of our tears. Tears at so much devastation and ruin, past and present."
It was his blessing of this space, where so many of their loved ones died, that they were grateful to receive.
“The families have always viewed this as a very sacred space,” said Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles “Chic” Burlingame, the pilot of the American Airline Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Pope Francis, Burlingame said, is a “holy father” for even those who aren’t Catholic.
“For me, his coming here is acknowledging the best of humanity,” she said. “We saw a lot of terrible things on 9/11, and the world responded with great love and compassion. We saw the best of us here, so I think he is acknowledging that as well.”
Anthoula Kastimatides, the sister of John Kastimatides, who had been on the 104th floor of the North Tower, said the fact that Pope Francis asked to meet with members of the community was key.
It “speaks volumes about the kind of person he is,” she said. “His heart and his soul and his desire to be with and among people who are experiencing some sort of loss or tragedy, even 14 years later — he wants to acknowledge that with us.”
Monica Iken-Murphy, wife of Michael Patrick Iken, who was on the 84th floor of the South Tower, was grateful that Pope Francis blessed the site of her husband’s death and those others who did not recover remains.
“This is the way we are going to honor them, by having someone this holy, closest to God, Pope Francis, come here to bless this site,” she said. “I couldn’t be prouder to share this memorial museum with him,” she said. “What an honor to be here. What a legacy for (my girls) and the future generations to come.”
Afterward, Pope Francis joined a varied group of religious leaders and about 400 people in Foundation Hall to offer prayers for the deceased and for peace in the world.
Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue and Imam Khalid Latif, the Muslim chaplain at New York University, offered reflections before the pope spoke.
"Intolerance and ignorance fueled those who attacked this place," Latif said. "We stand together as brothers and sisters to condemn their horrific acts of violence and honor each life that was lost."
Rabbi Cosgrove prayed that "today and everyday may we understand our shared mission to be, in the words of Pope Francis, 'a field hospital after battle' to heal the wounds and warm the hearts of a humanity in so desperate need of comfort."
Representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Muslim communities read meditations on peace, and a choir sang a Jewish prayer in honor of the deceased.