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“I’m so grateful the Pope would come like this,” said Dorry Tompsett of Garden City, N.Y., whose husband, Stephen, died in terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. She spoke to the Register after Pope Benedict led prayers at Ground Zero.
BY Pete Sheehan
NEW YORK — Even before Pope Benedict XVI arrived for the
memorial service at Ground Zero, one priest noted the Pope demonstrated his
sensitivity to those present.
The 24 guests and various dignitaries stood there on April
20, Sunday morning, as the chill hung in the air and the wind blew vigorously,
said Msgr. Robert Fagan, a retired priest of the Rockville Centre Diocese,
N.Y., and uncle of one of the victims of the World Trade Center attack. “We
stood there a while. It was cold. Some people shivered.”
That may have been appropriate for a service for victims,
survivors and rescue workers of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New
York and Washington, D.C.
“Pope Benedict rode toward us in the popemobile, but maybe
25 to 30 yards away, he got out and walked,” noted Msgr. Fagan, a long-time
pastor and former director of Catholic Charities for the diocese, which is
outside New York City.
“That was so very sensitive of him. The rest of us had to
walk there and he walked, too,” Msgr. Fagan said. “In a sense, he brought all
of us together even before he said anything.”
As he walked, a cello played — a marked contrast to the
festiveness of most of Pope Benedict’s appearances.
People affected by the 9/11 attacks said they were struck by
the Holy Father’s presence and his attention to the survivors, families and
“I’m so grateful the Pope would come like this,” said Dorry
Tompsett of Garden City, N.Y., whose husband, Stephen, died in the tragedy.
“I thought it was great that the Pope made time for it,”
said Mark Heintz, a New York City firefighter who aided in rescue efforts that
day. He also helped bring the body of New York City Fire Department chaplain
Father Mychal Judge from the site of the attack to the nearby St. Peter’s Church.
“It was really emotional,” said Tompsett, who, like Heintz,
watched the service on television. “He was validating the sanctity of the
As he arrived, Pope Benedict prayed privately at a special
kneeler, and then struggled against the winds to light a candle, finally
getting it lit after several attempts.
The Pope prayed aloud not only for those who died here, but
also those killed the same day at the Pentagon and in the United Airlines plane
that crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa.
“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,” Pope Benedict prayed.
“We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here — the heroic first-responders: our firefighters, 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 Sept. 11, 2001.”
The Holy Father also prayed, “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.
“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.”
And, in an apparent reference to terrorists and other
extremists, he added: “Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.”
Once he finished praying, Pope Benedict met personally with
each of the invited family members, rescue workers and survivors. Cardinal
Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, stood by and told the Pope who each person
“He was looking right at the person who was standing there,”
Msgr. Fagan said. “He was not distracted. He focused on you.”
One woman spoke with the Pope for some time, “but he just
held her hand and listened,” Msgr. Fagan said.
Cardinal Egan introduced Msgr. Fagan, noting that his nephew,
James Murphy IV, 30, died that day. He had been married two years.
“I will pray for the widow,” Pope Benedict told Msgr. Fagan
and then asked: “You pray for me.”
“I do that every day, Holy Father,” Msgr. Fagan replied.
“Thank you for being who you are.”
Msgr. Fagan said that he received a pair of rosaries from
Pope Benedict, and that the New York Archdiocese gave each of the 24 a replica
of the candle he lit and a cross made from debris of the World Trade Center. “I
will give the rosaries to Jimmy’s widow, Jeanine.”
Tompsett noted that she was struck by Pope Benedict’s
reciting a prayer from the Book of Numbers: “May the Lord let his face shine
“That was my husband’s favorite prayer,” she said.
Also watching on television was Msgr. Philip Hill, a New
York archdiocesan priest and the chief of staff for the U.S. Army’s Chief of
Chaplains Office at the Pentagon.
Msgr. Hill, who was at the Pentagon the day it was attacked
and later blessed remains of some of the victims of the World Trade Center,
said, “It was wonderful seeing the Pope there.”
Pete Sheehan writes
from New York.