NEW YORK – September 11, 2017 marks the 16th anniversary of the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center which took the lives of innocent victims and destroying buildings including St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, the only house of worship completely levelled in the attack.
In time for the grim anniversary, the Port Authority on August 21 finally signed the formal lease and purchase agreement for the Saint Nicholas National Shrine Church at the World Trade Center. Rick Cotton, the new executive director of the Port Authority signed the deal only a few days after starting his new job. The deal is for a 198-year lease through July 31, 2215 and includes a 99-year extension as well as an option to purchase the land from the Port Authority, as the New York Post reported. The rent is $1 a year for the church.
Jerry Dimitriou, executive director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America said, as reported in the Post, “Most importantly, the church also has an option to purchase the site at any time during the term of the lease for a nominal [i.e., $1] purchase price.
The current plan is to exercise the option to purchase soon after the completion of construction and after the church officially opens its doors.”
Construction continues at the church located at 130 Liberty Street, the former location of the Deutsche Bank which stood from 1974-2007 but was closed after 9/11 due to contamination from the collapse of the South Tower.
St. Nicholas Church was founded in 1916 and was located at 155 Cedar Street. The 1,200-square-foot church was destroyed on 9/11 and plans to rebuild the structure were delayed by the rebuilding efforts and plans for the new World Trade Center.
In 2009, talks between the Port Authority and the church fell apart leading to legal action in 2011. An agreement was made in order for construction to begin without a formal lease. On October 18, 2014, a ground blessing was performed by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios.
The new St. Nicholas Church was designed by Santiago Calatrava. As noted on the St. Nicholas website, Calatrava developed his plan from a wealth of Byzantine precedents, including the famous Church in Chora and Hagia Sophia itself for the design of the domed church. The topping out of the church took place in November 2016. The opening is planned for November 2018 to coincide with the church’s 102nd anniversary.
Archbishop Demetrios said, as noted on the church website, “This church will not be just a national shrine, but also an international shrine. It will show the will of all people to rebuild and resurrect from the ashes of 9/11. This will be a church for all to light a candle for the beloved that were lost on September 11th. This church will be a Greek Orthodox National Shrine on Hallowed, Sacred Ground.”
Among the casualties on September 11th were 36 Greek-Americans. One of them was an employee on one of the airplanes that terrorists crashed into the Twin Towers. The others worked in the buildings themselves. The number of victims is much higher than the 3,000 if we estimate the people who indirectly lost their lives as a result of illness (carcinogenic diseases in first responders) and fallen heroes of wars that followed.
Also, the number of Greek-Americans may be greater, because it is very likely that there were other Greeks who died that day without easily-discernible “Greek-sounding” names.
One Greek-American victim was Vassilios Haramis from Staten Island. He was born and raised in a poor family in Neapolis in Greece. At 18, he came to the United States to study and to pursue a better life. After earning a degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University, he worked for the Washington Group International at the World Trade Center.
President of the Parish Council at the church of Holy Trinity in Staten Island Gretchen Theodorakis told The National Herald that “Vassilios was very kind man with great humor. He cared for everyone and loved his family dearly. He was one of the best people I have ever met in my life.”
Those who knew Haramis describe him as a man with many hobbies: he loved football, gardening and above all Greece, which he visited almost every year to see family and friends. He was a great family man and a good Christian who always offered his help to the community of Holy Trinity.
The street in front of the church has been renamed Vassilios Haramis Way in his honor.
A tragic irony is that during the first terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in 1993, Haramis was on Tower 2’s rooftop with a colleague in her seventh month of pregnancy at the time. He remained with her until help arrived and when she was rescued by helicopter, he went down 110 floors on foot. It took him three hours to get down but he was exhausted and happy that he stayed to help his pregnant colleague. He never turned his back on those in need.
Another victim of the terrorist attack was Constantine Economos, a prominent member of the community of Holy Cross in Brooklyn and a member of the Church Committee. The street in front of the church has been named Economou Way in his honor. He was a partner in the firm Sandler O’Neill & Partners and on that tragic day, he was working on the 104th floor of Tower 2.
His daughter Katerina told TNH, on behalf of his family: “Our family lost a true renaissance man. As he worked a rigorous job in finance, he always found time for his family and community. Gus took his wife and children on trips, coached his children in sports and spent the most memorable times of our lives upstate with his family, parents, sister, brother, father-in-law and mother-in-law, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces, and nephews. He also took time out of his busy schedule to be a part of the Holy Cross Parish Council, where he served as president, and ran the annual Greek Festival. He was always there for anyone who needed help. He showed us all how to work hard and love hard and that lesson will never leave our hearts. Although Gus is no longer here physically, his family carries his love with them every day of their lives.”
Also among the victims: Michael Tarra was a member of the crew of United Airlines.
Three victims were born in Greece: Katerina Bandis, Vassilios Haramis, and Procopios Zois.
According to the New York City Coroner’s office the list of Greek-American victims were: Joanna Achladioti 27, Ernest Alifakos 43, Arlene Bampakidis 47 Katerina Bands 48, Peter Brennan 30, Thomas Damascus 33, Antonios Dimas 61, Constantine Economos 41, Michael Elferis 27, Anna Fosteris 58, Dimitrios Gkrekiotis 56, Kenneth Grouzalis 56, Basil Haram 56, Nicholas John 42, John Katsimatides 31, Daniela Kousoulis 29, Thomas Kouveikis, 48 Dimitris Maun 42, Philip Mastrandreas, 42 Georgios Merkouris 35, Stylianos Mousouroulis 38, Peter Mouton 44, Nikolaos Papadopoulos 29, James Pappageorge 29, Georgios Paorce 60, Theodoros Pigis, Daphne Pouletsos 47, Richard Poulos 55, Stefanos Poulos 45, Antonios Savvas 72, Muriel Fay Siskopoulos 60, Timothy Soulas 35, Andreas Stergiopoulos 23, Michael Theodoridis 32, William Tselepis 33, Jennifer Tzemis 26, and Procopios Zois 46.
The address at 98th Street between 38th Ave and Roosevelt Ave in Queens has been renamed James Pappageorge Way in memory of firefighter James Pappageorge. He had realized his dream of becoming a firefighter for only six weeks when his life was cut short on September 11th.