The crowd lining the streets of an intersection in lower Manhattan Friday morning awaiting Pope Francis' motorcade was anxious. People stood with cameras held high above their heads, fingers poised so they would be ready to snap a photo of the popular pontiff as he zoomed by in his shiny black car. Fans donned Pope Francis buttons, held rosary beads and waved flags. Police sirens in the distance signaled that the pope was near, and the throngs of people erupted in cheers. The motorcade skyrocketed past the crowd in a flash. A woman began crying, pointing to the skin on her arm that was prickled with goose bumps.
"He waved at me," cried Juana Comfort, 66, a New York City resident. She had waited for hours the previous day in an attempt to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis after he arrived in New York City but did not have any luck. "He's special to our community, the Spanish Catholic community," Comfort said. "To me, he's like the president."
Pope Francis gathered local representatives of the world’s major religions at the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan Friday, where nearly 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001. The service was a unique event consisting of an address from the pontiff, as well as prayers and meditations from various religious traditions in different languages. For pope fans of various religions, the service was the latest evidence that Francis was eager to spread a message of spirituality beyond the Catholic Church.
Dozens of religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Hindu and other faiths sat in chairs behind the pope during the service, which took place in Foundation Hall, a somber setting filled with 9/11 artifacts. The pontiff prayed to God to bring "peace to our violent world" and to "turn to your way of love" to those who justify killing in the name of religion.
"Water at Ground Zero reminds us of yesterday's tears but also of all the tears still being shed today...Here, amid pain and grief, we also have a palpable sense of the heroic goodness," said Pope Francis.
Members of the 9/11 community-- including victims’ families, survivors, rescuers, recovery workers, first responders and people from the Lower Manhattan neighborhood -- were able to participate in a lottery for the opportunity to attend the event. Pope Benedict XVI visited Ground Zero and blessed the site in April 2008, and former New York City mayor and 9/11 Memorial Chairman Michael Bloomberg said that Pope Francis’ visit would “serve as a marker for how far the World Trade Center has come since Pope Benedict XVI visited the site seven years ago, when it was still an open hole in the ground and closed off to the public," according to Gothamist.
Michael Keane, a writer who has lived in New York City and upstate New York periodically throughout his life, had a personal connection to Pope Francis' service. Keane stood on the side of the street in Manhattan Friday with rosary beads in hand and a button featuring the pontiff pinned proudly on his shirt, attempting to catch a glimpse of the pope as he headed to the memorial site. Keane had relatives who were in the towers when the planes struck, but they all survived, he said.
"I'm going to say closure is a big word, but maybe the pope will bring some peace," said Keane. "It's important to point out that people of all religions that were killed, wiped out...I think he will say something to soothe their souls."
The popular and progressive pontiff is regarded as peacemaker by many people across numerous different faiths, not just Catholics. His inclusiveness of all religions has been met with positive feedback. Roughly 90 percent of U.S. Catholics said they view Pope Francis favorably in a recent Pew Research Center survey, and he was also rated favorably by 70 percent of Americans overall, including 68 percent of nonreligious affiliates.
The multireligious service Friday was just one more way Pope Francis expressed his desire for peace and cooperation among all religions. In the past, Pope Francis prayed in a mosque to show his commitment to Muslim-Catholic relations and has demanded that all religions enjoy the same rights.
Leslie McTyre, 65, saw the pope when he was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week and made the trip to New York City to try and catch a glimpse of Pope Francis for round two. He said that the pope's multireligious service was an opportunity to avoid future victims of religious fundamentalists, regardless of what religion they come from. McTyre is a big Pope Francis fan and said it was "about time" for an accepting pope like Francis.
"As far as I know, all of us are praying and worshipping the same God; the only difference is the language of it," said McTyre, tears filling his eyes.