Professionals in downtown New York were still scrambling to work this morning, but as they checked their emails and got their coffee, things were different. Why? Pope Francis was on his way.
For those who were going to see him as he visited Ground Zero, security was well-organized and intense.
Secret Service, the NYPD and canines could be seen all over. Whether you were press, cardinal, rabbi, politician, you had to pass the security checkpoint. If you had hairspray or sunblock in your purse, it would be confiscated (I am not speaking from firsthand experience …).
Once I was able to get over to the second “plaza” for press, I, along with other journalists, became even more excited about seeing the Holy Father.
We saw Francis solemnly enter, accompanied by the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. One reporter next to me couldn’t hold back and lovingly screamed out to the Pope, “We love you!” In response, the Pope offered a tender smile.
To the side of us, many loved ones of family members lost in the attack on the Twin Towers were hoping Pope Francis would give them a blessing.
As the Pope met with New York’s political leaders, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayors De Blasio, Bloomberg and Giuliani, they were calling on him to come over to them.
Afterward, I had the chance to speak to those waiting, who, despite being disappointed Francis couldn’t step away from his duties to give them a blessing, stressed how incredible it was for him to bless the gravesite of their lost loved ones.
One man mentioned he lost his 23-year-old son in the World Trade Center. He credited his faith with getting him through.
Another lost his sister, Deborah, in the Pentagon. All he wanted was a photo of his sister’s plaque, but didn’t have the access to approach it. However, after explaining that predicament to me, it wasn’t difficult to lend a helping hand. Moreover, the man’s wife pointed out to me, on her smartphone, how the reflection on the Freedom Tower was that of a cross, and indeed, it was. You couldn’t miss it.
One man, before the Pope arrived, spoke to reporters about how he had lost his daughter who was a flight attendant on one of the planes that hit the towers. He lamented that she wasn’t supposed to work that day, but was covering for someone sick.
Another loved one of a lost family member, who asked to remain anonymous, told me, “It has been a very significant day for me, because this place is so full of tragic memories. Pope Francis is coming here with a message of joy. This is very strong and powerful for families who have had a lot of pain and negative emotions since 9/11.”
For this reporter who visited the top of the WTC observation tower when she was 10 years old, it was very poignant.
Deborah Lubov is a Vatican correspondent, accredited to the Holy See and
based in the Vatican, who reports primarily for Zenit News Agency.
She is in the United States to cover the papal trip.