Aircraft will be banned from flying under 3,000 feet
while the Pope is at Ground Zero
By Malcolm Moore in Rome
The Pope will pray for the redemption of Islamic terrorists when he visits the site of the September 11 attacks in New York next week.
The pontiff will call for terrorists to convert to Christianity, saying: “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”.
The prayer is likely to further incense the Muslim world, which has already attacked the Pope for publicly converting Magdi Allam, a journalist and one of Italy’s most high-profile Muslims, at Easter.
Osama bin Laden accused the Pope of trying to provoke “a new crusade” against Islam.
Aref Ali Nayed, a leading scholar and proponent of peaceful relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Islam, said that there were “genuine questions about the motives, intentions and plans of some of the Pope’s advisers on Islam”.
He said that religious conversion should not be “made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points”.
The Pope’s first visit to the United States begins on Tuesday. He will visit Ground Zero on April 20 and the prayer is expected to be the emotional high-point of his tour.
The Pope will also ask for “eternal light and peace to all who died” in the tragedy. His prayer will remember “the heroic first-responders: our firefighters, police officers, emergency service workers… along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy”.
Around 3,000 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Centre, including the 19 hijackers. The prayer will also mention the victims “on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania”.
The Pope will conclude: “Bring Your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth.” He will then sprinkle the crater with holy water and bless the site.
Security for the visit will be some of the tightest New York has seen. Ray Kelly, the city’s police commissioner, said it would be like having a UN general assembly, followed by a parade, followed by a presidential visit.
Aircraft will be banned from flying under 3,000 feet while the Pope is at Ground Zero. No-fly zones will also be set up above St Joseph’s Seminary and Yankee Stadium while the Pope is present.
The Pope’s itinerary includes a Mass at the baseball stadium, and he will also address the United Nations.
He will visit the White House on the first leg of his trip in Washington DC, although his spokesman said yesterday that he would not attend a state dinner given in his honour.
The Vatican did not offer a reason for his absence.
The Pope will hold talks with President George W Bush, but Cardinal Raffaele Martino, one of the Vatican’s most senior prelates, said the Holy See “cannot renounce its own beliefs on this visit, which are a rejection of the [Iraq] war and the constant encouragement of dialogue to resolve differences”.
All the venues on the Pope’s itinerary will be swept for bombs, while the authorities in New York said that there would also be divers in the East River, roof-top snipers, helicopters and undercover detectives carrying tiny radiation detectors on their belts. While he is in New York, the Pope will stay with Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the papal ambassador to the UN.
The street off Fifth Avenue where the archbishop lives will be closed and all residents “will be escorted to their homes by police officers”.
The Vatican has also announced that the Pope will confront the issue of paedophile priests while he is in the United States. Several Catholic organisations have protested that he will not visit Boston, the epicentre of the sex abuse scandal.
One group took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.
However, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said that the Pope would address the issue in a speech and that the Church needed “constant purification” over the issue.