Orthodox Aim to Rebuild Church Flattened by Twin Towers

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NEW YORK, SEPT. 23, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Near the site of the World Trade Center, bearded priests in black robes chanted ancient memorial hymns Saturday morning on the ruins of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.



As the priests conducted the memorial service in Greek and English, work at ground zero halted briefly, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the tiny church stood in the shadow of the twin towers. Steel girders and concrete from the collapsing towers flattened St. Nicholas.

The memorial service ended with supplications for the "eternal memory" of those who died in the attacks.

While workers put their helmets back on and resumed digging for survivors and the dead, the parish priest and members of the St. Nicholas congregation sifted through the rubble for the relics of three saints. They found only a charred cross and a twisted brass candelabra.

"With God´s help we will rebuild St. Nicholas as a memorial for all of those who lost their lives unjustly," said Father John Romas, the parish priest at St. Nicholas.

The official count of people missing since the attack remained unchanged Saturday at 6,333, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said. The number of confirmed dead rose slightly to 261, and 194 of those victims have been identified.

The Orthodox parish, founded in 1916, was long a magnet for Greek sailors and shipping magnates. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of seafarers.

As lower Manhattan became an important financial center, workers from the twin towers and other nearby office buildings often stopped there to pray or light candles.

"When you stepped inside, you felt like you were in a Greek village church right in the heart of downtown New York," said Peter Drakoulias, a Greek-American who had planned to get married at St. Nicholas in November.

Drakoulias has set up a Web site with information for donors to the church´s rebuilding fund. That site is http://www.stnicholasnyc.org/.