(CNN) — Pope Francis paid his respects Friday to the victims of the September 11 attacks, participating in an interfaith service and praying with their families at the ground zero memorial.
“The name of so many loved ones are written around the towers’ footprints. We can see them, we can touch them, and we can never forget them,” Francis said.
“Here, amid pain and grief, we also have a palpable sense of the heroic goodness which people are capable of. … Hands reached out, lives were given.
“This place of death became a place of life, too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, to goodness over evil, to reconciliation and unity over hatred and division,” Francis said.
Some 1,000 members of the 9/11 community were at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
The Pope walked into the memorial with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, heading toward the south pool, where families were waiting to greet him.
A man shouted, “Francisco! Our whole family’s here! A blessing, please!”
Then he convinced others in the group to join him.
“Ready 1-2-3 … our blessing, please!” They chanted together. “Francisco! Francisco! Francisco!”
The Pope continued to speak with a small group of families.
Standing steps away from the site where their family members perished, family members of 9/11 victims lined up along guard railings to catch a glimpse of Francis.
Maria Waring held a small photo of her husband, James, who worked for the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald and died in the World Trade Center attack.
“He was very Catholic, my husband,” she said. “He took my children to Mass more than I did. He was a very spiritual person.”
Also a Catholic, she said she was excited to see the Pope for the first time.
“I’m just really happy he’s coming here to bless all these people who left this earth too soon,” she said.
When the Pope kneels to pray, Waring said she’ll be praying with him and thinking of her husband — “for him to be at peace, and for us to continue life as best as we can without him.”
Ahead of Francis’ arrival, Nixia Mena-Alexis leaned against a guardrail, holding a bouquet of yellow roses in one hand and wearing a photograph of her sister pinned to her shirt.
The flowers, she said, symbolize the Catholic Church — and hope. She said she hoped to give some to the Pope and place some beside her sister’s name — one of thousands surrounding the reflecting pools at the memorial.
Diarelia Mena worked in IT for Cantor Fitzgerald. She had just turned 30 and had a 2-year-old daughter when she was killed on September 11, 2001.
“She was full of life and her laughter was contagious,” her sister said as her eyes filled with tears.
The lifelong Catholic said coming here fills her with a mix of emotions. But she knew she wanted to be here when the Pope came.
“To me, he symbolizes peace, and that’s part of (what) we’re striving for after what happened here,” she said. “This is sacred ground, so I wanted to be present when he came here.”
Jean Colaio, 50, lost her two brothers on 9/11. Both worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.
“For us to be in this spot, with our Pope, our Holy Father, is beyond words,” she said.
Being in his presence, she said, will help heal her family.
“We were here on that day and witnessed everything and evacuated. We had our horrible experience here,” she said. “And this really is the beginning. We’ve been working on our healing. But I think this really has propelled it.
“I feel close and connected to my brothers because he’s here.”
Before his visit to the memorial, Francis addressed a global stage at the United Nations. He presented himself as a champion of the poor and suggested solutions for leaders to adopt to combat war, environmental destruction and poverty.
Francis said the selfish pursuit of power and wealth is hurting the environment and the poor.
“A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged,” Francis said.
Later Friday, Pope Francis will take a quick spin through Central Park after visiting Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem on Friday.
The stop at the school, with 295 mostly Latino and black children, is in line with Francis’ mission of serving immigrants, the marginalized and the poor.
“This is his most important stop,” said Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities.
Francis will end his day celebrating Mass in Madison Square Garden, home to sporting events, concerts and other shows. It’s the fourth-busiest music arena in the world based on ticket sales and can hold 20,000 people.
Francis’ visit bumped a Billy Joel concert originally slated for Friday night to Saturday.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.