NEW YORK – A cross-shaped steel beam found amid the wreckage in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack was a symbol of hope for many working on rescue and recovery there, so much so that the construction worker who discovered it believes he stumbled on to a miracle.
“I saw Calvary in the midst of all the wreckage, the disaster,” Frank Silecchia recalled Saturday. “It was a sign … that God didn’t desert us.”
The 2-ton, 20-foot-high T-beam has now become a religious relic. It was taken from its temporary post near a church Saturday and lowered 70 feet down into the bowels of where the twin towers once stood to become part of the exhibit at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum.
But for all the religious fervor surrounding the cross, it will become part of the museum because of its history at ground zero, not because of its Christian symbolism, museum officials said.
“It’s powerful because it provided comfort to so many people – it is a part of the history of the space,” said Joe Daniels, president of the memorial foundation.
He said steel girders made into other makeshift crosses, Stars of David and possibly some Eastern religious symbols would also become part of the museum, which will open in 2012 and will be primarily underground at the site. The memorial will open this year, on the 10th anniversary of the attack.
“It’s important to have these artifacts that reflect the history, to remember, to see how people coped,” he said.
For the Rev. Brian Jordan, the Roman Catholic priest who led the effort to preserve the cross, it is very much a symbol of Christianity – sacrifice, loss and renewal, he said. Jordan celebrated Mass under the cross for weeks – and members of many different religions took part.
In 2006, the cross was lifted from the site and transplanted to a spot nearby at the oldest Roman Catholic parish in New York City, St. Peter’s, where it remained until a flatbed truck took it to a nearby park for a blessing, and then on to the World Trade Center site.
The only sound as the cross was lowered into the hole was the whir of construction machinery. as the cross was slowly lowered 70 feet, through the metal work that will be the ceiling of the museum, past black vents and twisted wiring, to the bottom. It looked like a coffin being lowered into a grave.
But Jordan and the others think it’s a turning point, and not a time for sadness.
“This is one of the most cathartic moments I have felt in my entire life,” he said. “I feel a relief in the sense that I know it’s found a permanent home, and for many of those who lost loved ones on that day, it is a relief for them, too,” Jordan said.