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At 9/11 site, pope prays with Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, far right, speaks as Pope Francis stands with Jewish and Muslim leaders as he visits the museum to the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, on September 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-INTERFAITH, originally transmitted on Sept. 25, 2015, and with RNS-PALLY-COLUMN, originally transmitted on Nov. 4, 2015.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, far right, speaks as Pope Francis stands with Jewish and Muslim leaders as he visits the museum to the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, on September 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-INTERFAITH, originally transmitted on Sept. 25, 2015.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, far right, speaks as Pope Francis stands with Jewish and Muslim leaders as he visits the museum to the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, on September 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-INTERFAITH, originally transmitted on Sept. 25, 2015.

NEW YORK (RNS) Pope Francis embraced survivors of 9/11 in the footprints of the Twin Towers, then prayed for peace at an interfaith service beside the last column of steel salvaged from the fallen skyscrapers.

Arriving straight from his speech to the United Nations on Friday (Sept. 25), Francis met with families from the 9/11 community — people who survived the destruction, rescued others from the inferno, or lost loved ones in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, executed by religious zealots.

Meeting those families, Francis said, “made me see once again how acts of destruction are never impersonal, abstract or merely material. They always have a face, a concrete story, names. In those family members, we see the face of pain, a pain which still touches us and cries out to heaven.”

“Here, amid pain and grief, we also have a palpable sense of the heroic goodness which people are capable of, those hidden reserves of strength from which we can draw. In the depths of pain and suffering, you also witnessed the heights of generosity and service.”

Pope Francis looks up at buildings surrounding the 9/11 Memorial while visiting the South Pool at the World Trade Center in New York, September 25, 2015. Pope Francis is on a five-day trip to the United States. REUTERS/Julio Cortez/AP/POOL - RTX1SGZL

Pope Francis looks up at buildings surrounding the 9/11 Memorial while visiting the South Pool at the World Trade Center in New York, September 25, 2015. Pope Francis is on a six-day trip to the United States. REUTERS/Julio Cortez/AP/POOL – RTX1SGZL

At the prayer service, at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Francis — looking tired halfway through his packed six-day American itinerary — asked God to “look on us, people of all faiths and religious traditions, who gather today on this hallowed ground, the scene of unspeakable violence and pain.”

“Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred and who justify killing in the name of religion,” he said in Spanish to an audience of nearly 500 clergy and lay people representing more than a dozen faiths and denominations.

After the interfaith service, the pope saw two of the secular museum’s most famous artifacts. The Ground Zero cross — two-pieces of steel, 20 feet high, found in the 9/11 wreckage — became the gathering point for a weekly Mass at the cleanup site.

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Click on the graphic above to see additional stories about Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S.

The second, also found in the debris, was a battered Bible, its pages fused together and turned permanently to Matthew 5:39: “But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

During the interfaith service, Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, both of New York, alternated words of peace. More pairs followed: two Hindu women, two Buddhists, two Muslims, a Sikh father and daughter and a Protestant and Orthodox Christian. Some spoke in English, some in their native languages. The pope sat in the middle and followed along in his program.


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“God judges us according to our deeds, not the coat that we wear,” said Sikh activist Satpal Singh in Punjabi, and his daughter Dr. Gunisha Kaur, who translated the prayer into English.

Then Cantor Azi Schwartz, of Park Avenue Synagogue, chanted in Hebrew a prayer to honor the 9/11 dead, asking God to give rest “to the souls of victims of September 11, who have gone to their eternal home.”

The Young People’s Chorus of New York City — more than 60 teenage boys and girls, wearing different colored scarves — sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth” for the pope, who then closed the one-hour service with the sign of peace. Francis hugged, shook hands or bowed to each of the dozen men and women faith leaders on stage — allowing them to first gesture to him which would be more appropriate.

After the pope left, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism and a member of the interfaith audience, glanced around the room and suggested the faith leaders stay and capitalize on the occasion and the pope’s loving spirit.

“Lock the doors,” he said, until the group figures out how to achieve world peace.

YS/AMB END MARKOE

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

15 Comments

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  • Typical of the religions today. Afraid to call it as it is. What Francis should have said at this gathering:

    “Get it together oh ye Muslims and Jews. Your religions are causing too much pain, grief and horror and all driven by your operating manuals. But to be honest, there is one vary glaring atrocity in the New Testament i.e God the Father committing filicide. To that end, we as Catholics no longer believe said action ever occurred.” But I guess had Francis said that, he would be out of a job. But that would be a good thing as it would give credence to the fact that all religions are severely flawed with major revamps needed across the board.

  • Filicide? We should not allow ignorant un-changed hearts to post on spiritual things their hearts/minds cannot possibly understand

  • I’m happy to see that the URJ President was in there with the Pope. If religious leaders work together, perhaps they can help people in general, not just their own flocks/constituencies/ congregants.

  • This segregated comment is a wonderful example of the need for love and peace across all religions. You’ve done a fantastic job of proving their highest beliefs and intentions.

  • Humanism is what is called for at ground zero. As far as I can tell, that is what these clergy brought to the situation. They did not bring Mohammed, Allah, Jesus or Moses or any other god.

    Human beings committed a horrific crime against other human beings on 9/11 while following primitive delusions written by other, more ancient human beings.

    Human beings need to stop being jerks to other human beings in the name of gods invented by ancient human beings. Prayer vigils like this one would not be necessary if all religions stopped their horrific faith-based practices (Jihad, Suicide bombings, Genital mutilation, Women’s repression) and simply died off.

  • Just wondering why the Baha’i Faith religion was not represented? They are all around the world and I know there are many in the United States. They have a beautiful temple on the outskirts of Chicago. But many of the followers of this faith are suffering supreme hardship in their native lands in the Middle East because of their religion. They have no religious freedoms and many of their civil rights, including the right to higher education have been denied them because of their faith. I know Baha’is and one of their principles if One God, One Man and One Religion. Just wish they’d been there.

  • Every priest in Jesus’s day was called a son of god, much as people today call themselves children of god. Furthermore, all but 2 new testament books were written over 100 years following his death and have been heavily edited and translated many times over 2000 years. I’m not speculating. This is verified my religous scholars. People just choose to ignore an inconvenient fact. Great man. Great teacher. Great socialist political activist. Great philosopher. Most influential man of all time. Not a diety. He was one of hundreds of proclaimed messiac reformers in a region torn bu corruption between the temple and roman totalitarianism. You’re welcome.

  • Jesus was great? Not really, P, M, M, L and J made him great as did Pilate and Constantine. (Pilate could have sent rabble-rousers to the Roman salt mines instead of to the cross- so Christianity is actualy based on the whims of one Roman prefect of Judaea). The absurdity of religion never ceases to amaze!!!

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