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Pope Francis' visit to 9/11 memorial stirs raw emotions for victims' families

Pope Francis took part in an interfaith prayer service at the World Trade Center Memorial Museum after addressing the United Nations General Assembly
Pope Francis visits 9/11 memorial 21:26

Throughout Pope Francis' travels through the streets of Washington, D.C., and now New York, the reception for him has been anything but tempered. Grandmothers have erupted in loud cheers, children have slithered through security barricades in hopes of a receiving a papal blessing and men and women alike have donned shirts and hats plastered with Francis' likeness.

Yet onlookers at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum, which Francis visited late Friday morning, openly grappled with dueling emotions, creating an atmosphere markedly different from the pope's earlier U.S. events. Many Catholic attendees were thrilled by the prospect of seeing Pope Francis, while others, both Catholics and non-Catholics, continued to struggle with the losses they suffered on Sept. 11, 2001.

More than 1,000 people were granted tickets via a lottery to surround the outer edges of the memorial's South Reflecting Pool, according to Archdiocese of New York officials. Attendees represented diverse swaths of the 9/11 community; uniformed FDNY officers somberly stood alongside widows and parents carrying photos of spouses and children.

Prior to the pope's arrival, spectators were orderly, quiet and almost funereal compared to the raucous thousands along Fifth Avenue on Thursday evening. But as the papal motorcade approached on West St., the crowd erupted in cheers.

William Brennan, 55, a 9/11 disaster relief responder, pressed against the security barricades, craning his neck as he sought to catch the attention of Francis.

Pope Francis addresses United Nations 48:53

"Fran-CIS-co!" Brennan bellowed, donning a polo shirt with an American flag embroidered on his left sleeve. "Bless us, Francisco! Bless us, all!"

Soon, a dozen spectators joined in unison: "1, 2, 3 -- Francisco!"

Brennan, born and raised a devout Catholic, said he suffers from lingering symptoms as a result of his recovery work. He finds Francis' "pastoral" touch inspiring and motivating.

"He's the people's pope -- his heart is there."

Francis, who met ten 9/11 families at the base of the south pool, interacted minimally with those lining the grounds' outer edges. Flanked by Secret Service agents and NYPD officers, Francis had fewer opportunities at the memorial site for the spontaneous interaction for which he has become known.

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"I was disappointed," Celia Pesantez, an Ecuadorian immigrant who has worked in an office building adjacent to the 9/11 site for 22 years.

The memories and images of 9/11 were too raw for Pesantez when Pope Benedict visited Ground Zero in 2008, and she opted not to go to the event. But she connects differently to this pope, a fellow Latin American who shares her "very special" Spanish culture.

"We are very proud of him," Pesantez said. "He's doing the job Jesus asked him to do."

Speaking at an interfaith prayer service inside the museum, Francis prayed for those who use religion as a justification for killing to be turned to God's "way of love."

He also took in several exhibits at the museum, including ones that "speak to faith," museum president Joe Daniels told CBS station WCBS.

One in particular stood out to Daniels - a bible that had become fused to a piece of steel. Discovered by a firefighter in 2002, there are just a few legible passages, notably one from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."

"This bible, this passage where it's just retaliation and love, fused to a piece of World Trade Center steel, it's absolutely incredible and I really want the pope to see it," Daniels said.

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