Pope Francis is taking New York by storm later this week for a whirlwind 36 hours, and on Friday, 11 people from different faiths will participate in an interfaith service at the 9/11 Memorial.
After addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Friday morning, Pope Francis will join religious leaders and representatives in lower Manhattan at 11:30 a.m. He is expected to meet with New Yorkers who lost family members on 9/11 before the service.
“It is special in a lot of ways — it’s his first visit to the U.S., and for him to organize an event that speaks to the diversity of faith and the power of faith is very meaningful,” said Simran Jeet Singh, an assistant professor of religion at Trinity University and Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition.
“A lot of times symbolism is just symbolism, but in this case it [the interfaith service] does a lot of work for minority communities … The fact that it’s at the 9/11 Memorial resonates for a number of reasons, it aligns with the pope’s view that faith has the power to bring people together — especially in response to violence and hate, and it’s also especially meaningful for those in the minority community, such as Sikhs, for whom 9/11 was a watershed moment in more than one way,” Singh said.
Singh, who will watch the service on Friday from the audience while his wife, Dr. Gunisha Kaur, and father-in-law, Dr. Satpal Singh will share the stage with the pontiff and say a prayer during the service.
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Dr. Satpal Singh, who teaches at the SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine, was a victim of religious violence in India in the 1980s. He was beaten unconscious and thrown from a train during a wave of anti-Sikh violence.
“I think a long time since you’ve seen someone with that kind of vision and wisdom and courage, everything he’s been saying is very remarkable,” Singh said of the pope.
Singh said if he had the opportunity to talk to Pope Francis privately, he’d want to talk about eradicating violence against women.
“I think it permeates [for some] that women are for some reasons created less than men. As religious leaders, we can emphasize that that’s wrong … if we speak from our podiums in our churches, synagogues, temples and gurdwaras, it will draw people’s attention to what is happening in this world, and God’s vision for love and compassion for all.”
“I think every New Yorker — whether they’re religious or not — identifies with 9/11,” said Dr. Gunisha Kaur, who is director of the Global Health Initiative and anesthesiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “He is making a statement by being there, and that in and of itself speaks volumes of the diversity within the city.
“It doesn’t matter who is up on stage. The fact there are minority groups behind Pope Francis, he will do more for protect minority civil rights than any other person in the world probably could,” Kaur said.