In New York at 9.30 am local time on Sunday 20 April 2008, the Pope visited Ground Zero, the name now used to refer to the site once occupied by the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. He prayed for peace and an end to hatred.
On 11 September 2001 two aircraft crashed into the twin towers, destroying them and a number of neighbouring buildings in a terror attack which cost the lives of 2,896 people. The site today is a vast 80-metre deep crater, surrounded by a fence and marked with a cross.
In 2002 the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre was put out for tender in a competition won by the architect Daniel Libensky. Today, Ground Zero is a construction site where work is scheduled to finish in the year 2012. The main building of the new complex will be the "Freedom Tower", 541 metres high.
Benedict XVI arrived at Ground Zero accompanied by Cardinal Edward Egan, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York. Awaiting him there were Michael Bloomberg, mayor of the city; David A. Paterson and John Corzine, respectively governors of New York and of New Jersey; 24 people representing the forces that responded to the attack of 11 September, and a number of injured and relatives of the victims.
The pontiff, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, kneeled for a few minutes of silent prayer for the victims of the attack, then lit a candle before pronouncing the following prayer:
"O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
"We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here -
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on 11 September 2001.
"We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.
"We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.
"God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.
"God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all".
The prayer over, the Pope greeted survivors of the attack, relatives of some of the victims, and members of the rescue squads. Finally, he gave his blessing to those present.
After the ceremony, Benedictr returned to his residence where he bid farewell to the staff of the Holy See permanent mission to the United Nations in New York before having lunch in private.