|The Memorial at Ground Zero, built at the site where on 11 September 2001 the Twin Towers collapsed after being struck by two aircraft in a terrorist attack that caused 2,896 deaths, was the second stop of the Pope's visit to New York. |
The Memorial is now a park of almost 33,000 square metres with a grove of white oak trees and two artificial waterfalls that flow into two large pools where the Twin Towers were previously located. These are surrounded by a low bronze wall on which there are engraved the names of all the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 26 February 1993 and 11 September 2001.
Below ground, where the foundations of the Twin Towers lay, there is a museum commemorating the tragic events.
Upon arrival Francis, accompanied by Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, archbishop of New York, left a flower near the waterfall and at the Memorial building where he was awaited by a rabbi and an imam of New York. He said a prayer for peace, which was followed by five meditations on peace (Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Muslim) and a Jewish prayer for the deceased, after which the Pope pronounced a discourse.
“I feel many different emotions standing here at Ground Zero, where thousands of lives were taken in a senseless act of destruction. Here grief is palpable. The water we see flowing towards that empty pit reminds us of all those lives which fell prey to those who think that destruction, tearing down, is the only way to settle conflicts. It is the silent cry of those who were victims of a mindset which knows only violence, hatred and revenge. A mindset which can only cause pain, suffering, destruction and tears. The flowing water is also a symbol of our tears. Tears at so much devastation and ruin, past and present. This is a place where we shed tears, we weep out of a sense of helplessness in the face of injustice, murder, and the failure to settle conflicts through dialogue. Here we mourn the wrongful and senseless loss of innocent lives because of the inability to find solutions which respect the common good. This flowing water reminds us of yesterday’s tears, but also of all the tears still being shed today”.
He also recalled his meeting with some of the families of the fallen first responders, and emphasised that this “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”. However, he added, “those family members showed me the other face of this attack, the other face of their grief: the power of love and remembrance. A remembrance that does not leave us empty and withdrawn. 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”.
Remembering the firefighters who, on 11 September entered the crumbling towers shortly before they fell, without considering the risk to their own lives, he spoke about “the palpable sense of the heroic goodness which people are capable of, those hidden reserves of strength from which we can draw”. He added, “This place of death became a place of life too, 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”.
“It is a source of great hope that in this place of sorrow and remembrance I can join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city. I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world. 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. Together we are called to say 'no' to every attempt to impose uniformity and 'yes' to a diversity accepted and reconciled”.
Francis invited all those present to pray in silence for peace: “Peace in our homes, our families, our schools and our communities. Peace in all those places where war never seems to end. Peace for those faces which have known nothing but pain”.
“In this way”, he concluded, “the lives of our dear ones will not be lives which will one day 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”.