VATICAN CITY — As three airliners smashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 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 with Vatican Insider.
John Paul II, who had grown up to watch his native Poland overtaken first by Nazis and then by the Soviets, and who as pope navigated the dangerous international waters of the Cold War, was no stranger to tragedy and war.
Still, the terror attacks on the United States shook him deeply.
“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.
“He stayed for short time in front of the TV. Then he retired to the chapel, which is only a few steps away from the TV room. And he remained there a long time in prayer. He also wanted to get in touch with George Bush, to communicate his support, his pain, his prayer. But it was not possible to contact the president, who, for security reasons, was flying on Air Force One.”
Instead, 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.
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