St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine blessed at World Trade Center

LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) -- The spiritual leader of the world's Eastern Orthodox Christians gave his formal blessing Tuesday to an ornate shrine that will replace a small parish church destroyed during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, nearing the completion of a 12-day U.S. visit from his home base in Turkey, evoked somber memories of that day two decades ago as he presided at a ceremonial door opening at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine near the World Trade Center.

"It's been so many years, 20 years, and St. Nicholas means a lot to us and to all of the world," worshipper Effie Doscas said.

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew watched as workers elevated the cross that now sits atop the shrine's marble dome.

"This sacred ground of the American experience is where the Orthodox Christian faith will take the lead in manifesting to the world that good is mightier than evil," he said.

His All-Holiness also blessed the sacred relics recovered from the former church previously located on the West Side of Liberty Park. He then presided over a door-opening service at the new house of worship.

"It's an incredible resurrection, as the patriarch said," worshipper George Yancopoulos said. "And St. Nicholas means victory of the people over death."

The attacks on 9/11 and the ensuing collapse of the twin towers buried the church in a mountain of steel and concrete. It was the only house of worship destroyed on that dark and dreadful day, and what followed was a two-decade mission to recover and rebuild a home -- not just for Greek Orthodox Christians -- but for everyone.

"I'm just so grateful for all the people who made this happen," worshipper Susie Spanos said. "A lot of work. A lot of work went into this."

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Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan was also in attendance.

"The very word 'ecumenical' means we are all together, all children of God," he said. "And He reminds us of that. He is their Pope Francis, you know it, and I love him."

There is still work to be done on the rebuilt church before its official re-opening scheduled for April of next year, as the only symbol of faith at the World Trade Center.

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