By Andrew A. Athens
National Chairman, United Hellenic American Congress (UHAC)
President and Founder, hellenicare
Honorary President, World Council of Hellenes (SAE)
Nine years ago America experienced a terror and tragedy that had not happened since the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Many of us remember that fateful day. It was the beginning of my military service having joined the Army days later in January 1942. Maybe it was 69 years ago, but to many who lived through World War II, it seems like yesterday.
We all believed America being bombed was unthinkable! But it happened. Since then we were lulled into a complacent belief that we would never be attacked again. September 11, 2001 changed that feeling forever. New York City, Washington D.C. and a field outside of Pittsburgh may bear witness to the uncertainty of life, but they are a testimony to American courage, valor and patriotism. Terrorist attacks were something that happened elsewhere in the world, but not on American soil. Now we had to deal with the reality of terrorism, feel fear and experience numerous changes in America’s security measures.
Although the threat of terrorism in America still looms, proactive measures have given us a relatively safe feeling. We can begin to think of rebuilding what was lost. In the midst of downtown Manhattan and the Twin Towers, whose shadows once covered the area’s natural sunlight, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church shined brightly as a symbol of faith, hope and charity, a quiet refuge in the city of hustle and bustle.
However, the rebuilding of the church has recently caused quite a stir as it was learned that the Muslim community would be granted permission to build a Mosque near Ground Zero and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for some reason seemed to be withholding its approval of rebuilding the church. This is an emotionally charged issue for us as Hellenic Orthodox Christians in America, an issue that unfortunately pits religion against religion, if we let it.
President Obama is correct when he said, “you can’t treat people of the Islamic faith differently,” but with all due respect this also applies to Greek Orthodox Christians. America was founded on the principle of religious freedom. I have not been able to ascertain why the Port Authority is not responding to this issue. However, it does seem that there may be a different set of circumstances being applied when it comes to the church.
George Demos, the young Greek-American from New York running for Congress has vigorously and commendably taken up this issue, writing to President Obama, holding a press conference with former Governor George Pataki, U.S. Representatives Tim Bishop and Carolyn Maloney as well as representatives from our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He lists a petition on his web site, http://www.georgedemosforcongress.com that deserves support, as it is one important way we can express our concern regarding this matter. Tomorrow we will remember the tragedy of 9/11, but as we approach the Feast of the Holy Cross on September 14th, we pray that the power of the Cross will uplift the St. Nicholas Church from the ashes of Ground Zero and restore it once again, as a beacon of light in a world surrounded by darkness.
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