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At Sept. 11 Memorial, Pope Celebrates Tolerance And Religious Differences


Now we're going to hear about one of the more somber and intimate gatherings Pope Francis has been a part of during this U.S. visit. After speaking to the United Nations today, he went to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in lower Manhattan. He participated in an interfaith ceremony there where he appealed for tolerance, unity and the celebration of religious differences. NPR's Joel Rose was there.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The solemn tone was set as soon as the pope arrived at the memorial. He paused to pray silently next to one of the large pools where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood. Then he headed down into the underground museum for the ceremony where he spoke in his native Spanish through a translator.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) I have many different feelings by being here at Ground Zero where thousands of lives were taken in a senseless act of violence and destruction. You can feel the pain here.

ROSE: The ceremony was held in the museum's cavernous main hall housed within the original foundations of the World Trade Center. The pope was flanked on the dais by representatives of all the world's major religions - Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Jews, all dressed for the occasion in colorful traditional garb.


ROSE: Two at a time, all of the religious leaders stepped forward to offer recitations and chants on the theme of peace.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Praying in Arabic).

ROSE: The ceremony began with a shared reading. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove and Imam Khalid Latif took turns.


ELLIOT COSGROVE: We representatives of the world religions, in this great city of New York, gather to offer words of comfort and prayer.

KHALID LATIF: As we read in the Koran that one life lost is like all mankind, and one life saved is like all mankind.

ROSE: Then Pope Francis rose to speak. He denounced the mindset of violence, hatred and revenge that can lead to fanaticism. But this place of death, he said, has become a place of life, too, and a hymn, as he put it, to the triumph of reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.


POPE FRANCIS: (Through interpreter) Today, we have been invited to say no to any attempt to make us all the same and to say yes to our differences, accepting an irreconciliation.

ROSE: It was an emotionally charged ceremony for many in the audience, including Anthoula Katsimatides. She lost her brother on September 11 and now serves on the board of the memorial and museum. Katsimatides met briefly with the Pope before the ceremony.

ANTHOULA KATSIMATIDES: I showed him a picture of my brother John, which he immediately touched and began to pray for. And I felt very humbled and honored.

ROSE: Katsimatides says it reveals a lot about Pope Francis that he made a point of visiting the museum during his brief time in New York.

KATSIMATIDES: This is a place of such tragedy, and now it's been transformed into this wonderful, calm place of peace. And the fact that he wanted to come here and spread his hope and his joy and his light is just monumental for us as family members.

ROSE: As the ceremony ended, Pope Francis and the other religious leaders turned to offer each other greetings of peace, and the mood in the room brightened as everyone in the audience did the same. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
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