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Should a sectarian religious monument be part of a public project to commemorate one of the great tragedies in American history?

Web Posted: June 8, 2002

Area redevelopment officials have joined a growing movement to keep a cross formed by steel beams of the former World Trade Center standing as part of a permanent memorial at Ground Zero.

   The structure is currently mounted on the eastern edge of the destroyed twin high-rise complex on Church St. A construction laborer, 47-year-old Frank Silecchia, discovered the "cross" reportedly while searching for victims two days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on targets on New York and Washington, DC. The 20-foot structure was standing almost upright.

   Silecchia, according to Associated Press, "cried for 20 minutes after his discovery."

monthly special    "Some people will say it's velocity of physics that put it there," Silecchia told reporters. "To me, it's an act of God."

   Following the discovery, rescue workers, officials and the public began making "pilgrimages to pray or meditate" before the cross. The beams were later hoisted to the crest of a 40-foot-high mound of debris that was formerly a pedestrian walkway. Religious services were held, and a local pastor then "blessed" the steel beams with holy water, declaring: "Behold the glory of the cross at ground zero. This is our symbol of hope, our symbol of faith, our symbol of healing..."

   A campaign quickly ensued to make the Ground Zero Cross a permanent fixture in the ruins of the former twin towers. Silecchia, a born-again Christian became a minor celebrity, and his story found its way into mainstream news media as well as web sites and publications linked to religious groups. One evangelical publication quoted the construction worker as saying, "Even an atheist watching this building site said, 'Oh, my God!' Evil did this work, and God prevailed to show his strength."

   According to the New York Daily News, an official with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Ed Malloy, has asked the agency to officially support efforts to incorporate the steel cross into the designed of a planned September 11 memorial display at the site. Malloy is also president of the Building Construction and Trades Council of Greater New York. He told reporters that he does not even want the steel cross moved to join other "relics" from the site which are now being stored in a hangar at Kennedy Airport.

   "Keep the cross on the site, amen!" several construction workers reportedly chanted during a final Mass held at Ground Zero last Sunday.


   Efforts to make the steel cross part of a permanent display at the site in Lower Manhattan come as officials mull a suitable way to re-develop the former World Trade Center location. A final blueprint for the area is to be chosen by December 1, and will include a memorial of some kind to the 2,823 people killed during the attack on the twin towers.

   The redevelopment group has already received more than $2 billion in public funds to construct new buildings on and around the former WTC site.

   "None of this money should be used to construct any religious memorial," said Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. "This is a public area, and it's being rebuilt with public funds. Tax money must not be used to construct any sectarian memorial."

   Johnson added that calls to include the cross as part of a permanent memorial "insult the victims, rescue workers and other Americans who are not Christians, who do not believe in a deity and are not religious."

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