New York City firefighters presented Pope John Paul II with the white helmet of their chaplain, who was killed at the World Trade Center, and the pontiff prayed Saturday for the families of the 343 firefighters believed killed in the rescue effort.
“I offer a warm welcome to the delegation from the New York City Fire Department, so many of whose members lost their lives in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11,” the pope said in English, addressing the delegation at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“May almighty God grant the bereaved families consolation and peace, and may he give you and your fellow firefighters strength and courage to carry on your great service to your city,” John Paul prayed. “With the promise of my continued prayers, I invoke upon you and your families God’s abundant blessings.”
Among the eight firefighters in the basilica was Daniel A. Nigro, who was promoted after the attacks to department chief, the highest uniformed position in the force. He replaced Peter J. Ganci, who died at the World Trade Center.
The firefighters, some with family members, approached the pontiff and knelt before him. One gave John Paul the helmet of the Rev. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest who was the department chaplain.
The white helmet was decorated with a cross.
Judge died while giving last rites to a firefighter fatally wounded by a falling body. When the priest removed his fire helmet to pray, he was struck in the head by debris and killed.
On Saturday evening, the firefighters went to Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, a central square, to address a rally of about 100,000 people in solidarity with the United States.
Nigro described for the crowd their encounter with the pope.
“The pope told us that since Sept. 11, he has prayed for the victims” of the attacks, Nigro said. “All of us will return to New York with the blessing of the Holy Father.”