9/11 St Nicholas’ Church that NY forgot?

Posted on September 24, 2010

September 20, 2010
Andrea Peyser – NY Post

Who will cry for the church at Ground Zero? No one has or ganized a march urging St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church to rise at the World Trade Center site. And no one has raised a voice to defend the tiny house of worship’s right to exist.

But all New Yorkers should shout in unison: Bring back St. Nick’s!

While the city’s political brass stands behind the construction of a massive, 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, St. Nicholas Church, far smaller but no less revered, is all but forgotten. A crying shame.

Long before the Twin Towers were imagined, the 1,200-square-foot, gilt-adorned church was built in 1916 by a handful of Greek immigrants at 155 Cedar St., site of a former tavern. For generations, people of all faiths stopped in to pray. And, unlike the Ground Zero mosque, whose spiritual leader says separate prayer spaces will divide worshippers of various faiths, the pews at St. Nick were never segregated.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, it ended.

The church was crushed by tons of concrete and debris as the south tower fell on its roof. Fortunately, no one was killed in the church. But relics, hidden in a safe, were turned to dust. And, worshippers learned much later, their church was never to return.

With all the tales of horror that emerged that dark day, the story of St. Nicholas should enrage New Yorkers, regardless of faith. Because plans to rebuild the little church — the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11 — were scrapped by the Port Authority as early as last year.

But news of the demolished plans trickled into the parish only in the last few weeks. Evidently, the brass believes they have bigger things to worry about than a curious, little homeless church.

“It’s outrageous that the politicians are falling all over themselves to say the mosque has a right to be built there, and none of them, with the exception of former Gov. [George] Pataki, has come out in support of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church being allowed to be rebuilt in its legal and rightful place,” said Nicholas Karcostas, who now prays in New Jersey.

His title is supreme president of the American-Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.

“It’s extremely disheartening,” said Ellen Karis, a Greek-American comedienne who has raised thousands for the church. “It was so beautiful.”

A deal to move the church to a 6,500-square-foot space on Liberty Street, plus pay it $20 million for air and ground rights, was proposed, then crushed, by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. PA spokesman Steve Sigmund blames church leaders for the loss.

St. Nick honchos “spent eight months trying to get more out of the agreement, more in cash,” Sigmund complained. The PA cut off negotiations, he said, because it wanted to start building an underground vehicle center, which extends under the Liberty Street site, and had lost patience with the church.

But Greek Orthodox Archdiocese spokesman Father Mark Arey insists, “It was never about money!”

Father Arey said talks broke down after the church resisted handing the PA its Cedar Street site before it got hold of new digs on Liberty Street. Even so, he’d hoped negotiations would resume this year. A thriving church “could be a sign of hope and reconciliation at Ground Zero.”

But last month, the PA let it be known the deal was kaput.

“The PA won’t return our calls,” Arey griped. “We’ve been intimidated and bullied. We’re just a little church.”

Sigmund said St. Nick’s might as well go back to Cedar Street. Arey said the site is not habitable.

Now, 100 member families, plus thousands of devoted worshippers, pray for a miracle. An online petition started by Karcostas has drawn more than 2,000 signatures.

This is a disgrace. There must be room at Ground Zero for a little Greek church.

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