Pope Francis Conducts Interfaith Ceremony at 9/11 Memorial
Today on his visit to the United States, Pope Francis visited the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. There, against the backdrop of one of the original World Trade Center walls that remained standing after the 2001 attacks, he conducted a groundbreaking interfaith ceremony.
Using the still-standing wall as a symbol of the strong leaders who have held the global population back from hatred, violence, and war, Pope Francis spoke of the urgent need for religious tolerance and peace, especially now, when religious tensions run high and religion is often viewed as a catalyst for violence.
Addressing an audience of more than 400 representatives of international faith communities gathered in the memorial and hundreds of thousands more on the television and Internet, Pope Francis prayed for "eternal light and peace" for the victims of the September 11 attacks. He also prayed for a change of heart in those who would use religion to justify hatred and violence. He prayed for healing for all victims and survivors.
The pope's interfaith gathering emphasized that the audience of different religions was not praying together, but praying in the presence of one another. This distinction is at the heart of interfaith work; each faith remains separate and undiluted, but honors and respects the other faiths' rights to be present.
The pope's words from the 9/11 Memorial echo the message of the United Religions Initiative, the world’s largest grassroots interfaith organization with over 600,000 members in 91 countries. “It is a source of great hope that in this place of sorrow and remembrance I can join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city. I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world. For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace.”
Pope Francis Addresses the United Nations
Pope Francis delivered a stirring address for the opening of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, in which he called on world leaders to “set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good.”
Pope Francis emphasized that, “The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species.” He said that a “right of the environment” exists because human beings are part of our environment and because every living creature has an intrinsic value. He also highlighted the misuse of the environment as a cause of economic and social exclusion, “a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights” in today’s “culture of waste.”
The United Religions Initiative (URI), the world’s largest grass-roots interfaith organization, working in 91 countries with over 600,000 members, is a Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations. URI Executive Director Victor Kazanjian was present at the UN on September 24 for a religious leaders' meeting on the Moral Imperative to End Extreme Poverty to support the Sustainable Development Summit. URI strongly supports the Pope’s call for peace and environmental protection: “War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.”
His Holiness strongly endorsed nuclear abolition. “An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as nations united by fear and distrust. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.” URI is also a strong voice against nuclear weapons. URI President and Founder The Right Rev. William E. Swing, along with Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (one of URI's grassroots groups), aims to "create a global movement to eliminate nuclear weapons once and for all." Swing has spoken at the United Nations Headquarters on the topic, as well as popularized a "Prayer for Those Whose Hearts Carry the Weight of Nuclear Weapons."
We affirm Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s welcome to the Pope when he greeted the UN staff members: “Regardless of faith, we draw inspiration from your humility and humanity – and from your global call for action on social justice, climate change and ensuring a life of dignity for all.” The Secretary-General referred to the General Assembly hall, saying, “This chamber is sacred space.” This reflects the URI’s purpose in bringing diverse voices of faith from around the world to the United Nations where countries gather in the pursuit of peace and the common good and for sharing the agenda of the UN with our members.
Two specific UN Resolutions observed annually by URI members with programs and actions are the International Day of Peace (September 21) and World Interfaith Harmony Week (February 1-7). URI looks forward to supporting the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted today by the world’s leaders at the United Nations following the Pope’s address.
We also applaud the organizers of the inspiring interfaith service at the site known to New Yorkers as “ground zero” since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It was heartwarming to see the eyes of the world on this deeply moving gathering of faith and hope.
The healing of the wounds of September 11 combined with the UN’s inauguration of the Sustainable Development Goals are signs that Pope Francis – a towering yet humble religious leader – is helping the world to usher in a new era of interfaith cooperation and a global culture of peace.
May peace prevail on Earth.
Pope Francis's History with URI
Maria Eugenia Crespo de Mafia, URI Director of Cooperation Circle Support, had the opportunity to work alongside Pope Francis in Buenos Aires, when he joined URI's tenth anniversary celebration. "Though as a Catholic and Argentine I am excited and proud of his meaningful gestures and words, I must say I am not surprised because he is doing and saying what we were accustomed to in Buenos Aires. The passion he shows today for interfaith was born in Buenos Aires, so it was not strange that he was part of Interfaith Events in New York. When Rabbi Sztokman from Escuela de Amor CC told Pope Francis (then Cardenal Bergoglio) that Bishop Swing was in town to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first URI Meeting in Latin America, he joyfully said he would be joining the celebration and he offered the Metropolitan Cathedral for the interfaith prayer."