This morning I joined 450 others in the open space in the 9/11 Memorial Museum for an interfaith service with Pope Francis. Most attendees were religious leaders from the New York area, but there were many family members of 9/11 victims, along with political figures and various celebrities.
Because of security, we all had to be in the hall 90 minutes before the service began. And every religious tradition in the New York area, if not on the planet, was represented. It was a stunning display of solidarity – all in the interest of peace.
Pope Francis prayed in English about peace, and preached in Spanish about peace; all the while acknowledging the horror of what happened on the very site 14 years ago and radiating a compassion for the suffering of the human condition.
We had all come to see the pope, but as I left with a few of my bishop colleagues, we remarked that his presence simply made manifest what was already there – a respect for difference, a desire for reconciliation and an acknowledgement of God’s reach – which not only embraces religious diversity but can bind religions together as a collective witness for peace.
Pope Francis, in his humility, piety and understated verbal eloquence, has a brilliant ability to release the best in all of us. His is an extraordinary example of how the life of faith can help set people free. Which is what I felt as I headed back to Newark.