Praying at Ground Zero

By  Catholic News Service
  • April 20, 2008
The spring sunshine of the past week had given way to cool air and gray skies. Fog enshrouded the tops of Manhattan's skyline. At Ground Zero, some five storeys below street level where once stood the World Trade Towers, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for the dead and the living.

It was in the morning of Sunday, April 20, a few hours before the Pope would celebrate Mass with some 60,000 people at Yankee Stadium. But here at Ground Zero, marking the bedrock where the rubble of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy could go no farther downward, he was surrounded by a much smaller group of people.

There were the usual dignitaries, of course. Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, was there, along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Governor David A. Paterson and John Corzine, governor of New Jersey, various cardinals, bishops and others.

But there were 24 rather special people. Four had been among the first of New York's finest to respond to the emergency call on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists deliberately directed two passenger planes to be flown into the two towers, causing them to collapse and kill 2,896 people. 

Another four had been injured in the attack. The final 16 were chosen by the Archdiocese of New York because their families had lost loved ones there.

Before meeting them, Pope Benedict kneeled to say a silent prayer before a small reflectiing pool, after which he lit a Paschal candle in memory of the dead. He followed this with a prepared prayer:

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here-
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

He was then introduced to each of the special guests. He spent a couple minutes with each one, listening to their words, blessing them. He then gave each a special cross made from steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Centre.

Almost seven years after the tragedy, the vivid markers of death and destruction are gone. More and more, it looks just like a large construction site, full of concrete and steel and heavy equipment. By 2012, there will be a new office complex there, including a 541-metre Freedom Tower designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.

Deep down below this new structure will be a spot where a frail 81-year-old man got on his knees and prayed. 


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