September 25, 2015 — Pope Francis arrived in New York City last night, and although he’s here less than 48 hours, the visit is packed with events, including an address to the U.N., a prayer service at the 9/11 Memorial and a Mass at Madison Square Garden.
After arriving in New York City yesterday, Pope Francis headed to an evening prayer service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, where he thanked the nation's priests, brothers and women religious for their service and gave particular thanks to women religious saying, "Where would the church be without you?"
Pope Francis looks up as he arrives to St. Patrick's Cathedral for an evening prayer service Sept. 24 in New York. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
This morning, the pope addressed the United Nations at its headquarters in New York City, asking government leaders and U.N. officials to keep the dignity and sacredness of every human life and the value of all creatures at the center of their concern.
"Above and beyond our plans and programs," he told the U.N. General Assembly, "we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights."
More than 190 heads of state were attending the General Assembly, and many of them made a point of being in the U.N.'s historic hall for Pope Francis' speech on the eve of discussion of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, later in the year, the Paris Conference on Climate Change.
Pope Francis addresses the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis called for real, concrete action to stem climate change; respect for every human life and for "the natural difference between man and woman"; economic decisions that place the needs of people before profits; and greater controls on weapons sales and the elimination of nuclear weapons.
"In wars and conflicts there are individual persons — our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls — who weep, suffer and die," the pope said. They are treated as "human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements."
Pope Francis warned the U.N. leaders and the heads of state that too many decisions seemed to be based on the desire by a few for economic or political power, ignoring the values and rights the United Nations was formed to promote and protect.
Pope Francis pauses in front of a display at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York Sept. 25. The Virgil quotation on the wall reads, "No day shall erase you from the memory of time." (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
While some people continue to question scientific evidence that human activity is contributing to global climate change, Pope Francis insisted "a true 'right of the environment'" exists and is closely tied to human rights, since people are part of nature and are called to live in communion with it.
"Any harm done to the environment," he said, "is harm done to humanity."
Pope Francis then went to the 9/11 Memorial for a multi-religious gathering. Honoring both the pain and the strength of the families of those who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and drawing on the pools of water that are part of the site's memorial, Pope Francis spoke about tears and quenching the world's longing for peace.
Pope Francis greets a New York City police officer as he visits the ground zero 9/11 Memorial in New York Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
"The water we see flowing toward that empty pit remind us of all those lives" lost in 2001, he said. "The flowing water is also a symbol of our tears. Tears at so much devastation and ruin, past and present."
The pope and Cardinal Dolan each left a single white rose on the edge of the fountain in Memorial Plaza. Pope Francis also met briefly with 20 family members of fallen first responders, shaking their hands, blessing them and listening to them carefully with the help of an interpreter. Gathered around the fountain were 1,000 people — including some injured when the Twin Towers fell.
Afterward, Pope Francis joined a varied group of religious leaders and about 400 people in Foundation Hall to offer prayers for the deceased and for peace in the world.
Pope Francis read the same prayer Pope Benedict XVI recited when he visited the ruins of ground zero in 2008, a prayer that specifically mentions also those who died the same day at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Pope Francis places a rose at the South Pool of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile)
"This is a place where we shed tears, we weep out of a sense of helplessness in the face of injustice, murder and the failure to settle conflicts through dialogue," Pope Francis said in his personal reflection.
Meeting the families of victims, he said, was a concrete reminder that "acts of destruction are never impersonal, abstract or merely material. They always have a face, a concrete story, names.
"In those family members," he said, "we see the face of pain, a pain which still touches us and cries out to heaven."
However, the pope said, they also demonstrate "the power of love and remembrance," which is something the memorial promotes with the names of those who died in the attack engraved in stone. "We can see them, we can touch them and we can never forget them."
Friday afternoon, Pope Francis visited the Our Lady Queen of Angels school in Harlem, where he encouraged an audience of Catholic school students and immigrants to live with joy and dare to dream. He also highlighted the immigrant experience — in a way children could understand, comparing it to seeking acceptance and making friends in school, not always an easy place for them to fit in or find their way.
Pope Francis meets students at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the East Harlem area of New York Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
"They tell me that one of the nice things about this school is that some of its students come from other places, even from other countries," Pope Francis said.
The message, spoken simply, continued the pope's call for inclusive attitudes and actions in favor of immigrants, who often occupy the peripheral places to which he has called on Catholics to carry the Gospel. Immigrants at the school greeted him personally, engaged in small talk and read from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25. "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."
Pope Francis ended his first full day in New York by celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden, which was transformed into a chapel in the heart of the Big Apple, where 20,000 people gathered to pray with him.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden in New York. (CNS photo/Andrew Burton, pool)
True peace in a big city comes from seeing the vast variety of people not as a bother, but as a brother or sister, Pope Francis said in his homily.
In his homily, the pope urged the congregation to go out into the city, to seek the face of Jesus in the poor and suffering and to share the joy of the Gospel with all.
Jesus urges his disciples "to go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be," Pope Francis said.
"Go out to others and share the good news that God, our father, walks at our side," the pope told them. "He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness" and moves people to encounter and to peace instead of competition.