Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ground Zero cross moves to temporary home at church

Frank Silecchia stands next to the cross made with iron from World Trade Center Building Six, which was taken from the site of the attacks.

Updated 10/5/2006 9:38 PM ET

By Verena Dobnik, The Associated Press NEW YORK —

A cross-shaped steel beam that survived the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attack to become a symbol of hope amid the ruins was moved Thursday from Ground Zero to a nearby church, accompanied by a procession of victims' families, clergy and construction workers.

The 2-ton, 20-foot-high cross was placed on a flatbed truck for the 3-block trip to its new home, St. Peter's Church, which had served as a sanctuary for rescue workers searching for human remains from the Sept. 11 attack.

"This piece of steel meant more to many people than any piece of steel ever," said Richard Sheirer, head of the city Office of Emergency Management five years ago. "It goes beyond any religion."

Ironworkers sang God Bless America as hundreds of people walked behind the cross to its temporary home facing Ground Zero outside the 18th-century church, New York City's oldest Roman Catholic parish.

"This cross is a sign of consolation and inspiration to workers who served at Ground Zero for the 10 months of recovery," said the Rev. Brian Jordan, a Franciscan priest who had blessed the beam days after it was pulled from the wreckage. "Some interpret it as a cross. Others see it as an artifact that has historical and architectural importance, a reminder that is also a sign of closure.

Five years ago, the church, rattled but intact after the attack, also became a temporary morgue. The Rev. Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department chaplain who became the first official trade center fatality, was among those brought inside.

Jordan, in a brown robe cinched around the waist with a white cord, led the procession. He also led the effort to preserve the beam, discovered in the ruins of 6 World Trade Center by construction worker Frank Silecchia on Sept. 13, 2001.

The worker showed it to Jordan, asking what the priest saw. "I said, 'Frank, I believe that is a cross,' " said Jordan, Judge's friend and fellow Franciscan. "We are all anxious for some type of God's presence."

Jane Pollicino, who lost her husband, Steve, in the attack, was among those walking in the procession. "This cross is a sign," said the mother of two, whose spouse worked as a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald, a brokerage firm that lost 658 employees in the attack.

Workers excavated the beam and installed it at the site. Each night, illuminated, it shone over the smoking debris as they kept digging. On Feb. 14, 2002, the cross was moved to Church and Cortland streets, its location until Thursday.

Some people, including a group of atheists, "wanted to get rid of it," Jordan said. "Others argued it was a conflict of church and state, since the site is owned by a government agency. But we fought and prevailed."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the site's owner, had planned months ago to store the cross in a hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, N.Y., but family members and ministers objected.

At the spot where it stood for four years, just south of a transit hub, land is being excavated to make way for three office towers. The cross is to stay at the church during the reconstruction.

The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation has said it plans to include the cross as part of its memorial or inside the Sept. 11 museum.

Posted 10/5/2006 9:35 PM ET

Updated 10/5/2006 9:38 PM ET

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