9/11 widow honored to view Pontiff

Staff, Boston Herald

NEW YORK — Christie Coombs brought a cross and a photo of her husband to the World Trade Center with the hope of having Pope Francis bless them.

In the end, Coombs only caught a “decent glimpse” of the Holy Father yesterday before he led an interfaith service at the 9/11 Memorial — a small and fleeting moment but one that touched the Abington widow more than she could have 
imagined.

Christie Coombs, whose husband, Jeff, died in the 9/11 terror attacks, brought a cross and a photo of him to the World Trade Center yesterday to listen to Pope Francis speak.Photo by Christopher Evans

Christie Coombs, whose husband, Jeff, died in the 9/11 terror attacks, brought a cross and a photo of him to the World Trade Center yesterday to listen to Pope Francis speak.Photo by Christopher Evans

“You never find closure. But there’s definitely comfort,” said Coombs, who lost her husband, Jeff, in the September 11, 2001, attacks. He died aboard American Airlines Flight 11.

She attended the ceremony at Ground Zero, where Francis spoke for roughly 15 minutes — emphasizing solidarity and hope — after saying a prayer at the memorial’s south reflecting pool.

The Pope honored the “senseless” loss of life, but also praised the heroism on 9/11.

“The names 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,” he said. “Here, amid pain and grief, we also have a palpable sense of the heroic goodness which people are capable of, those hidden reserves of strength from which we can draw.”

Coombs said it was an “honor” to be there.

“You take these unique opportunities that come along the way because of the way Jeff died, and you embrace them,” she said. “Because you can’t make Jeff come back. You can only 
make the process a little more bearable.”

Coombs, in many ways, has become the local face of those who lost loved ones in the 2001 attacks, creating a memorial in her husband’s name and, in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, talking with survivors and families to help them manage their grief.

But in scoring a coveted place at the 9/11 memorial, it was pure chance. She said she entered her name into a lottery.

“I think Jeff had his hand there and was pulling my name out for me, knowing how much this would have meant for me,” Coombs said.

The experience, she added, was a poignant one, even if she and other relatives didn’t get a chance to meet the Pope. Some, she said, voiced their “disappointment,” as Francis met some families and first responders, but not all, and many, like her, watched the ceremony via a live feed set up on a nearby lawn of the memorial.

But Coombs, emotion breaking into her voice as she spoke to reporters outside, said she came away feeling enlightened.

“I was holding his picture, and I brought with me the cross that was given to me, after Jeff was killed, by our pastor when we had our memorial service — it hangs right next to my bed,” Coombs said. “I took it just in case we did have some interaction with the Pope so it could be blessed. But I feel like just being there it did get the blessing of the Pope.”

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