FCC News Desk
As three airliners smashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, at the time the director of the Vatican press office, delivered the news to Pope John Paul II.
"I remember that terrible afternoon as if it were yesterday. I called the Pope, who was at Castel Gandolfo, I gave him the news. He was shocked not only by the tragedy itself, but also because he could not explain how man could achieve this abyss of evil..." he recalled in a 2011 interview, part of which was reprinted this Sept. 11 in a Catholic News Agency article.
“He was deeply shaken, saddened. But I remember that he asked himself how so heinous an attack could happen. His dismay, in front of those images went beyond pain,” Navarro-Valls recalled.
Pope John Paul II decided to send his message of condolences and assurance of prayers via telegram, and was among the first of the world leaders to do so that day.
"I hurry to express to you and your fellow citizens my profound sorrow and my closeness in prayer for the nation at this dark and tragic moment," the Pope wrote.
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. The next day, Wednesday, is when the Pope is scheduled each week to address the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
While John Paul II normally used this as a time for catechesis on the family or other issues, he set everything aside on September 12 to address the tragedy from which the world was still reeling.
“In the face of such unspeakable horror we cannot but be deeply disturbed,” he said. “I add my voice to all the voices raised in these hours to express indignant condemnation, and I strongly reiterate that the ways of violence will never lead to genuine solutions to humanity’s problems.”
The Pope called Sept. 11 “a dark day in the history of humanity, a terrible affront to human dignity.
“How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people. But faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail. Christ’s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit. Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Christian hope is based on this truth; at this time our prayerful trust draws strength from it.”