Destroyed in 9/11, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church rebuilds 20 year later

The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was completely destroyed on September 11th, 2001, but for the 20th anniversary of 9/11 it will be lit in memorial blue from dusk to dawn. Andrew Veniopoulos, Friends of St. Nicholas Project Director, sat down with Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous to discuss the rebirth of the national shrine with an expected full opening in 2022.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church stood in the shadow of the majestic Twin Towers. A place of prayer and peace for 85 years in lower Manhattan was reduced to rubble on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center's South Tower fell.

Thankfully, no one was in the church that day, and just a few sacred items were salvaged, including religious icons, a tattered bible, a bell, and a candelabra.

But out of the ashes came a commitment to rebuild. Construction began on a new church in 2015 just yards away from the original site. But financial troubles halted the project two years later, until the nonprofit friends of st. Nicholas was formed to raise money to save the church.

St. Nicholas National Shrine is the only house of worship at the World Trade Center site. It's slated to open to the public in April of 2022. Andrew Veniopoulos is Project Executive for the Friends of St. Nicholas.

ANDREW VENIOPOULOS: This 20th anniversary of 9/11, it's an affirmation of our beliefs. And with the events in Afghanistan, it takes a more profound effect. We will, for the first time on September 10, light this church, the exterior, for the first time to start the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: This dome that's going to be lit up, it's right above us right now, and I understand that it's made with marble that came from the Parthenon in Athens?

ANDREW VENIOPOULOS: Correct, so what you're looking at above us is a beautiful 40-rib dome. Covering this dome is Pentelic marble in the curtain wall. And it's a glass, stone, glass structure that in between the curtain wall and the structure, there'll be lights.

So from dusk till dawn, this church will illuminate as a beacon on a hill.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now it's been quite a journey getting this church opened and finding the funding for it. There have been some delays along the way. Of course, the pandemic didn't help things. What will the final cost of this shrine be, and how were you able to raise the money?

ANDREW VENIOPOULOS: Well the final cost at the end of the day, is 85 for construction, and we're going to leave another $20 million for an endowment. We want to leave this church on proper financial footing. And you know, we have great Greeks around the world, Greek Americans and non Greeks that have contributed to this, tens of thousands of people have contributed, whether $1, $5, $10 million.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: The National Shrine will also include a non-denominational space for people of all religions and backgrounds to pray and reflect.

ANDREW VENIOPOULOS: And just like the old church, where people of all faiths and creeds used to come in there, light a candle, and sit there and just pray to God, or just meditate, just to take a time-out from their busy days, we're bringing that essence back to this church on the second floor, and anybody that wants to come here to have that opportunity again.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: That's exactly what Anthoula Katsimatides' brother, John, did frequently when he worked in the World Trade center's North Tower as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. John died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11 along with 657 of his colleagues.

ANTHOULA KATSIMATIDES: St. Nicholas was a tiny little church in the middle of concrete and buildings, and John actually found it. So he would go before work, after work, whenever the little church was open and light a candle. So for us, the fact that that's opening, it's going to be a wonderful way for us to pay tribute to John and to pray for him in a house of worship.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: When the doors of this shrine finally do open, what's the symbolism to the world?

ANDREW VENIOPOULOS: It's an affirmation of religious liberty for people to show that regardless, the truth will always come out of darkness, the light will always come out of darkness.