(Vatican Radio) Possibly one of the most poignant and moving events to have taken place during Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to the US was his visit to New York’s Ground Zero Memorial on Friday, where he participated in an inter-religious meeting.
During his time there he prayed with religious leaders of other faith communities and remembered all those who died in the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
Vatican Radio’s Seán-Patrick Lovett is traveling with Pope Francis and was at the event. He sent us this report:
An escalator takes you down, down, down into the bowels of the earth, to bedrock.
You're standing on the concrete foundations that once supported the tallest buildings in New York - the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. The dimly lit cavernous space is daunting and deeply disturbing. It feels like being buried alive inside a primordial tomb.
You know that everyone else feels it too. Because all 400 people there are whispering in hushed tones, chastened by the enormity and the emptiness of it all. Your eye is drawn to the only object in the space - a massive 12-meter high steel girder rising like an ancient funeral stele in this nothingness. It is still covered with mementoes, memorial inscriptions and missing person posters placed there by rescue personnel and families searching for their loved ones.
This is the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, built to bear solemn witness to the terrorist attacks that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people, to honor the victims and those who risked their lives to save others - but also to celebrate the victory of human dignity over human depravity. It's a tangible, sensorial reminder of how, in the words of Pope Francis: "a place of death can become a place of life too...a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death".
But, most of all, it's a reminder of the power and importance of memory. Many of us can recall in detail exactly where we were or what we were doing on that terrible day in 2001 - the day the world changed. How our reactions of shock, disbelief and horror followed one another in mind-numbing succession.
I believe Jorge Bergoglio shared those same sensations at the time. He certainly communicated profound emotion when he visited the site for the multi- religious gathering held at Ground Zero on Friday. "Here grief is palpable", he said. "Here we mourn the wrongful and senseless loss of innocent lives because of the inability to find solutions that respect the common good".
And yet the fact of so many religious confessions (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian...) coming together to pray for peace - stood out as a powerfully tangible, sensorial sign of the shared desire to be forces of reconciliation and unity over hatred and division. Again, in the words of Pope Francis: "to be prophets not of tearing down but of building up".
By the way - do you remember where you were on September 11th fourteen years ago?
Traveling with Pope Francis in the United States - I'm Seán-Patrick Lovett
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