New York City: on St. Nicholas Day, Christians pray for church lost at ground zero

On a day when Christians around the world celebrated St. Nicholas Day, a group of Greek Orthodox faithful headed for ground zero Tuesday to pray for the St. Nicholas Church lost in the 2001 terrorist attack.

"This 36-foot tall church was just a stone's throw away from the trade center. People tried to buy air rights over it, or to move it," said Peter Drakoulias, a member of the almost century-old congregation. "But the church stayed. It was always the little church that could."

The big question now is: Will the tiny house of worship that stood on 24-by-55 square feet (2.2-by-5.1 square meters) of ground zero be part of the rebuilt World Trade Center site?

"We're working closely with St. Nicholas, the Port Authority and other partners to find an agreeable location for a rebuilt church on the World Trade Center site," John Gallagher, a spokesman for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., said Tuesday.

A workshed stands where St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church once served generations of Greek-American families. Built in 1916, the church was traditionally a refuge for Greek sailors arriving in New York Harbor who believed that St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, would keep their ships from sinking.

St. Nicholas commonly known as Santa Claus was born in the third century to a wealthy family in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. He became a bishop and lavished his inheritance on the needy, especially children.

Tuesday's outdoor service was in remembrance of the more than 2,700 people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, in the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

About 50 people gathered inside a trailer, normally reserved for trade center victims' families, where they burned incense while holding candles and chanting prayers for the dead in Greek. A table served as a makeshift altar graced with icons. Leading the service was Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, who works for New York's Greek Orthodox Archdiocese.

Before the terrorist attack, each Wednesday at lunchtime, a service at St. Nicholas drew World Trade Center and Wall Street employees to the church abutting a pricey Manhattan parking lot. At the southern edge of ground zero, the landmark church was destroyed in the attack. But no one was injured or killed.

When Drakoulias accompanied the Rev. John Romas, pastor of St. Nicholas, to ground zero days after Sept. 11, Drakoulias said, "the construction guys were looking for the church. Father John had a picture, and within minutes, we started to find the marble and carpet, and some wax candles, which was unbelievable given the heat. "And we found some icons," he said, referring to the most sacred images of the Orthodox rite.

The Orthodox community worldwide already has pledged millions of dollars (euros) to fund the reconstruction, which New York Gov. George Pataki promised would rise on or close to the same spot. Plans for the reconstruction of the 16-acre (6.5-hectare) World Trade Center site includes five office towers, a $2 billion (Ђ1.7 billion) transit hub, a memorial and cultural and performing arts space. "We're a very little piece of a very big puzzle," said Drakoulias.

While they await the rebuilding of their beloved house of worship, the congregation of 80 families worships at the Cathedral of Saints Constantine and Helen in New York's Brooklyn neighborhood, reported AP. P.T.

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