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Monday, 21 April 2008

Pope makes historic visit to Ground Zero

AFP, NEW YORK  - Pope Benedict XVI Sunday pleaded for an end to sectarian hatreds as he became the first pontiff to pray at Ground Zero, the site where nearly 3,000 people died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here," the pope beseeched God after blessing the ground in all four directions. "Heal the pain of still-grieving families.

"Bring peace to our violent world... turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred," he said.

The pope had arrived at the former World Trade Center site in his white Mercedes-Benz popemobile, which drove slowly down a ramp that straddles the hole in the ground where the twin towers used to stand.

He descended some three-quarters of the way down the ramp and walked the final few meters (yards) to kneel in silent prayer.

Then, as a blustery wind blew, he lit a white candle within a glass tube, before intoning his prayer and blessing the ground.

As a solo cellist played, Benedict spoke to 24 survivors and relatives of those who perished in the attacks by Al-Qaeda hijackers.

Tom Riches, who carried his firefighter brother's body out of the site, was returning there with Benedict.

"Since that day, it's always been sacred to me," Riches told the Sun Sentinel newspaper. "Him blessing the ground there will make it official."

Benedict was on the final day of a historic visit to the United States which has taken him to Washington and New York.

After the visit to Ground Zero, Benedict was to celebrate Mass for 55,000 people at Yankee stadium, the second open-air congregation of the six-day visit after a service in the US capital's Washington Nationals baseball stadium.

During his US tour, the German-born pontiff has marked several firsts -- the visit to Ground Zero, the first Mass celebrated by a pope in the 150-year-old St Patrick's cathedral in New York, and the first visit by a Roman Catholic leader to a US synagogue.

In Saturday's Mass, the pope pledged his support for Catholic clerics as they struggle to come to terms with a sex scandal that he said "has caused so much suffering" and damaged "the community of the faithful."

Benedict did not shy away from controversy during the trip, repeatedly addressing the clerical sex scandal that has rocked the US Church both financially and morally.

Benedict XVI celebrated his 81st birthday at the White House on April 16, and the third anniversary of his election to the papacy in New York Saturday.

Tens of thousands of people gave the pontiff a rock-star welcome when he visited a seminary outside New York to bless about 50 disabled children and their caregivers, and attend a youth rally.

They waved white and yellow handkerchiefs -- the colors of the Vatican -- and roared with delight each time the pope raised his hands to salute them.

Benedict warmed to the welcome, descending to the foot of the stage to grasp hands -- to the delight of the crowd and the consternation of Secret Service

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