On September 23, 2001, 13 days after the catastrophic 9/11 attack that left downtown NYC in shambles both physically and emotionally, Franciscan priest, Father Brian Jordan, first laid his eyes on a 17-foot steel column, weighing at least two tons, showed to him by a construction worker after a Sunday Mass he held with Ground Zero workers. This gigantic T-shaped cross, formed by two interlocked girders, both stupefied and amazed Father Brian, and everyone in attendance, who all stared silently at what appeared to be a sign from above.
“I was so overcome with emotion, shock, surprise and gratitude,” Fr. Jordan said. “I immediately knelt down and thanked Almighty God. As we all silently looked from each other to the cross, we did not say a word, but from the reverent silence and penetrating wide-eyed stares, it was obvious that we all knew and accepted that this was a sign of God.”
So what took just 13 days to discover, culminated in a 13-year uphill battle for this firebrand priest to steadfastly fight for the preservation and memorialization of what became known as the Ground Zero Cross.
In his new book, The Ground Zero Cross, Fr. Jordan intimately shares his odyssey with the cross, and why he decided to “let go and let God” after the cross was installed at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in 2014.
“I first battled to keep the rusted cross at the Ground Zero site because it was a powerful reminder for the countless construction workers, firemen, police officers and volunteers that God is here with us, and with faith in Him, we will resurrect, not just as a community, but as a country.
“Then I fought for it to be placed at the nearby St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, which was severely impacted by 9/11, not just physically, but emotionally. Though suffering structural damage, St. Peter’s kept its doors open to America’s heroes, and the church transformed into a relief supply station. Most of the Ground Zero workers were Irish Catholics who needed that physical and spiritual reminder of the cross at the church,” Fr. Jordan said.
The cross was kept at the church from October 2006 to July 2011. Then in a short ceremony that same month, it was blessed by Fr. Jordan before being loaded on a flatbed truck and lowered into the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (due to being a large-scale artifact), before the rest of the museum's displays were filled in.
During that time period, Fr. Jordan still fought to reinstall the cross back at St. Peter’s. However, now both the cross and Fr. Jordan had a new nemesis. In July 2011, the nonprofit group, American Atheists, sued to remove it, calling it an unlawful and “repugnant” attempt to promote religion on public land. One group member even told ABC News that it was “an ugly piece of wreckage” that connoted only “horror and death.”
American Atheists lost their case in July 2014. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court found that the cross, located at Ground Zero, was "a symbol of hope" and historical in nature. “It did not intentionally discriminate against a group of atheists who sued to have it removed,” they ruled.
Fr. Jordan said that after 13 years of fighting for this cross, he is finally at peace. “I finished this book three years ago, but decided to revisit it after finally coming to peace and accepting the reality that the Ground Zero Cross has a permanent home, though the 9/11 Memorial Museum was not my preference. However, now that the book is published, I want folks of all faiths to see why the cross was and will always be a significant symbol of hope, faith and resurrection for us all after 9/11.
“In my estimation, at least one third of those who died that fateful day were from Irish Catholic families from all five boroughs, especially from Rockaway, Breezy Point and Broad Channel. The firemen, police officers, union workers and civil employees who lost their lives that day and during relief efforts were Irish Catholics,” Fr. Jordan said.
Fr. Jordan himself comes from a working-class Irish family that goes back three generations visiting and living in Breezy Point. “My father used to come here with my grandparents as early as during the Great Depression. Then when he married and he had his own children, we used to spend all of our summers living in a bungalow in Breezy.
“Rockaway will always be my home. I know this community well. I was here for the 9/11 Memorial Mass services on the peninsula, after the Flight 787 crash and of course, Sandy. So I know how strong and resilient Rockaway folks are! We keep pressing on and keep hope alive even in the most dire of tragedies,” Fr. Jordan said.
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