Rabbi Adam Raskin’s dream of meeting Pope Francis nearly came true last Friday.
The spiritual leader of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac attended the National September 11 Memorial & Museum multireligious service at Ground Zero in New York City, but did not get to meet the pope. Nevertheless, Raskin couldn’t have been more pleased.
“It was a day of a lot of emotion and a lot of powerful words of peace and unity,” Raskin said in a phone interview as he rode the train home from New York. “It was tremendous, extraordinary.”
While the pope’s words moved Raskin, he seemed particularly impressed with his fellow clergy, most of whom were clad in bright colors. He said he saw “gowns, scarves, flowing garbs that represents all different religions from East to West,” adding no one but the pope “could have convened that spectacle.”
To Raskin, the room looked like “a palette of colors.”
Several hundred people attended the 45-minute service in which the pope “spoke about peace and the violence done in the name of religion,” Raskin said. The pope called killing in the name of religion “a great tragedy,” and told the religious leaders in the room “to work for peace.”
While the prayers offered that morning, including one chanted by New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue Cantor Azi Schwartz, were stirring, Raskin said he was moved to be sitting between a Catholic priest and a Jain leader while in a room dedicated to the Sept. 11 terrorist bombings, which he called “the most horrific misuse of religion.”
Raskin also milled around outside the memorial, where those directly affected by the bombings were gathered. Several thousand people walked by a fountain that listed the names of the deceased, he said.
There, Raskin saw many people with tears in their eyes and buttons with photos of their deceased love ones on their clothing. He listened to a few of their stories, including one from a women whose twin daughters were infants when their father was murdered at the World Trade Center.
The mother pulled out her phone to show Raskin a photo of her daughters at their prom. “It was such a powerful moment,” he said.
The next morning, as Raskin delivered a sermon at his synagogue, he told congregants, “‘I did not get to chat with him, and to all those who dared me to say ‘gut yontiff pontiff,’ I am sorry I disappointed you.’”
But clearly, Raskin was “not disappointed at all.”