Pope Benedict prays, talks to survivors, at Ground Zero

21st April 2008, Comments 0 comments

He asked for God's intercession in the hate which drove the Islamist hijackers to kill so many.

New York -- Pope Benedict XVI Sunday prayed at Ground Zero with survivors of the 2001 terrorist attacks that took 3,000 lives, and asked for God's intercession in the hate which drove the Islamist hijackers to kill so many.

Dressed in a plain white robe, Benedict knelt at a small altar on a yellow carpet at Ground Zero and prayed silently for several minutes before lighting a single candle.

The brief ceremony came on the pontiff's sixth and last day in the United States, where his quest for reconciliation over the child sex abuse scandals within the church have dominated his sojourn.

He is to depart for Rome Sunday evening after holding Mass for tens of thousands at storied Yankee stadium.

About two dozen family members of those who died and actual survivors of the attack by two hijacked passenger planes that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center were on hand for the subdued ceremony.

Benedict struggled to light the candle in the misty, windy weather, then offered a spoken prayer asking for God's support for "people of many different faiths and traditions" who gathered at the "scene of incredible violence and pain."

He asked for God to "give eternal light and peace to all who died here" and at two other attack sites -- the Pentagon in Washington DC and the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a fourth plane crashed when a handful of passengers struggled to regain control.

The pontiff also appealed to God for peace and understanding around the world.

"Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred," he prayed.

He also asked that "those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been in vain."

Afterwards, the pope greeted personally each of the family members or survivors as he listened to their connections to the tragedy related by a priest standing next to him.

Some of them were police, fire and rescue officials, reflecting the hundreds of public safety officials who died trying to rescue victims of the attacks in the short time before the towers came tumbling down.

Many of those he greeted knelt and kissed Benedict's hand.

But there was also a certain light-heartedness about the occasion, coming more than six years after the attacks. Before Benedict arrived, people chatted and laughed, and there was banter and smiles as the pope talked to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor David Paterson.

The group was kept small to fit the space confines of what is now a building site for the new Freedom Tower. A solemn single cellist provided music, and as the pope left the site, a bagpipe band of the public safety organizations played as he left -- symbolic of the heavy Irish Catholic influence in New York's public safety organizations.

Benedict, 81, has kept a rigorous schedule. He has spoken publicly nearly every day of the sex abuse victims' pain and shortcomings of a church, which failed to stop the worldwide plague, and met Thursday with a group of US victims - a first for the Vatican.

In the US alone, more than 4,000 priests have abused more than 10,000 children over five decades, according to the 2004 report documented by criminal justice experts at the behest of the US bishops' organization.

The Vatican is considering changes in canon law to deal with the cases, apparently in the church's statute of limitations, which now dictate that victims file complaints within 10 years after turning 18 years old, according to news reports over the weekend.

The possibility came forth in remarks by Cardinal William J. Levada, who heads the Vatican office that rules on cases of sexual abuse forwarded from bishops from around the world.

In the US, many of those seeking resolution and compensation are in their 50s and 60s, having spent a lifetime building courage to come forth with painful memories from childhood or early teenage years.

Abuse cases have been reported from at least a dozen other countries, but the Vatican is particularly concerned about the effect on the US church, its third-largest flock with 70 million members and a branch that has always shown an independent streak.

Victims' groups want the Vatican to also take measures against the bishops who were often silent partners in the abuse.

The German-born pope, seen as more of a bookworm and less charismatic than his predecessor John Paul, nonetheless has struck a strong emotional chord in the United States, where he also made only the third visit ever by a modern pope to a Jewish synagogue.

During his brief visit Friday night at the Park East Synagogue in New York on the eve of the sacred Jewish celebration of Passover, Benedict, who was drafted at age 14 into the Nazi Youth Movement in 1941, met with Rabbi Arthur Schneier, 78, who outlived the Holocaust in the Budapest ghetto.

Benedict recalled the war days in remarks Saturday night to 20,000 student seminarians at St Joseph's Seminary in New York, where he urged young people to keep the faith while enjoying their freedom.

"My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers," Benedict said. "Its influence grew - infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion - before it was fully recognized for the monster it was."

DPA with Expatica

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