Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine was reopened to the public on Tuesday, the feast day of St Nicholas, after years of fundraising setbacks and building delays.
The church is next to the World Trade Center and was collateral damage in the Al Qaeda-led attacks on September 11, 2001. Hijacking planes which crashed into the centre of New York, the terrorist group also targeted the Pentagon and attempted, unsuccesfully, to strike the White House.
The 1916-built church was buried by the collapse of the South Tower of the Trade Centre, and its loss was felt by the Greek Orthodox community.
Presiding priest Father Andreas Vithoulkas told reporters: “It means so much. It’s such a source of pride and joy for the Greek Orthodox being able to once again have this jewel box built here on Ground Zero in the middle of the World Trade Center.”
Parishioners had expressed frustration at the pandemic causing further delays to the construction process after ongoing financial problems. The church’s community had been forced to meet elsewhere in the intervening years.
One church-goer told media: “We waited 21 years to open Saint Nicholas Church, so it's a big day for us. It's very emotional for me.
“My legacy started 100 years ago when my grandparents came from Greece and settled here in Lower Manhattan and got together with other Greeks and opened up the original Saint Nicholas.”
Architect Santiago Calatrava designed the new church on Liberty Park, overlooking memorial pools at Ground Zero, to look like the churches in Constantinople. It also serves as a memorial to the near-3,000 lives lost in the 9/11 attacks.
Michael Psaros, chairman of the group Friends of Saint Nicholas, told CBS: “It's important for all New Yorkers, not just the parishioners, but all New Yorkers, that this is a cenotaph, a living cenotaph in memory of the 3,000 people who were martyred and murdered that day.”