Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 29, 2011 and it being republished in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The World Trade Center cross is still a “sign of comfort” to many people, says the Franciscan priest who describes himself as its “unofficial guardian.”
On Sept. 13, 2001 construction worker Frank Silecchia found a 20-foot, cross-shaped T-beam from World Trade Center 1 standing almost upright in the wreckage of World Trade Center 6.
Fr. Brian Jordan, O.F.M., blessed the cross later that year on Oct. 4 and promised that it would be preserved.
Now almost 10 years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the priest again blessed the cross in a July 23 ceremony before its relocation to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
“It’s a sign of consolation and comfort for those who lost loved ones,” Fr. Jordan told CNA on July 28. “For the dead, the cross signifies the death of Jesus Christ. It also gave hope and support to the living, especially the rescue and recovery workers, the firefighters, polices officers, construction workers and many others.”
The Franciscan priest, who is in residence at New York City’s Holy Name Parish, played his own role in responding to the destruction which killed thousands. He ministered among construction workers, worked with family members and uniformed service members, and blessed “many bodies and body parts.”
“We saw evil at its worst, but goodness at its best,” Fr. Jordan said. “The goodness was that Americans came together in those weeks. New York City came together in those weeks. People of all ethnic and religious groups and economic backgrounds came together. I was very proud of that.”
In the months afterward, the cross “dramatically” affected others, both Christians and non-Christians.
He particularly recalled a Mother’s Day Mass in 2002, when mothers who lost children or grandchildren and their husbands all gathered at the cross.
Two groups of U.S. Army special forces also attended, without telling anyone else in advance.
“One group had just returned from Afghanistan, while the other was preparing to go,” the priest reported.
“At the kiss of peace, to see these mothers embrace these young men who came from war, who were about to go, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Fr. Jordan said. “I don’t care if you are John Wayne. Anyone who has any heart or emotion in them will start crying when they see the mothers who lost their children embracing soldiers who are going to war.
“They looked at the cross, and they knew that Catholics were with them.”
He noted that what people call the “cross” is simply an interpretation of the T-beam shape. But even so, he explained, the shape has significance of for Christians.
Jesus is “both the victim and the victor of the cross.” Despite the cruelty of his death, Jesus is also the victor of Resurrection, of life over death.
“The cross, (is) for us, we were all victims on 9/11. We’ll be victorious,” he said. “America and the rest of the free world will roll over terrorism and show the poignance of God’s overwhelming love for all people.
Joe Daniels, president of the 9/11 Memorial, said that the cross will be an important part of the memorial’s commitment to “bring back the authentic physical reminders that tell the history of 9/11 in a way nothing else could.”
The group American Atheists has filed a lawsuit to stop the display of the cross, claiming it is a “government enshrinement” and an “impermissible mingling of church and state.”
Fr. Jordan was not sympathetic to their claim.
“They don’t have a prayer. Not to be facetious,” he said, noting that the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows many religious icons, as does the Holocaust Museum, on public land.
The cross is “an interpretation,” he repeated.
“They’re going to judge interpretations? Then move every telephone pole out of New York City, because those look like a cross to me too,” he countered.
“These people are just looking for 15 minutes of fame. They’re exploiting 9/11 for their own selfish public posturing and they should be ashamed of themselves because of this baseless lawsuit.”
Fr. Jordan closed his remarks by recommending the Decalogue of Assisi, a short 2002 document signed by world religious leaders that rejects violence and advocates peace and religious dialogue.
“God bless America,” he said.