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As the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” (neither at Ground Zero, nor a mosque) controversy has raged on, fellow Greek Americans have been urging me to instead write about St. Nicholas, the Ground Zero church (no qualifier needed) destroyed on 9/11.
Here’s my Religion News Service piece. (Also picked up on The Huffington Post, but the last three pararaphs were trimmed for length on that version.) The Associated Press and New York Times have also covered the story this week, and we’re all painting a more fair and balanced portrait of the situation than what you’ll catch on Fox News (though this online story is OK), where political posturing by folks like Congressional candidate George Demos and gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio rather simplistically — if not irresponsibly — frames this as a case of city officials choosing a mosque over a church.
FYI, the projects — and the problems — are utterly unrelated. Park51, formerly known as Cordoba House, wants to build an Islamic community center, open to everyone, on private property in the Tribeca neighborhood several blocks north of Ground Zero. It got the community board’s approval and has Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blessing, but now faces heated national outcry stoked by Islamophobes and politicians. In contrast, St. Nicholas, a Greek Orthodox church with only a few dozen regular worshipers before 9/11, has been mired in Ground Zero-specific bureaucracy for years, trying to hammer out a deal with the Port Authority to swap its tiny piece of land for a bigger plot and receive millions of dollars in public funds for the construction and security requirements. (As my story explains, these negotiations stalled more than a year ago — long before the Park51 controversy erupted. Meanwhile, the church has also had some trouble accounting for the donations it has received, which you can read more about in The National Herald, a Greek American newspaper.)
Parish council president John Couloucoundis told me, in a quote that didn’t end up making my story, “We’d rather not be in the forefront for this reason, because it’s not the same kind of project. Our real concern is getting to the bottom of why the Port Authority isn’t moving forward with us.” But, church leaders aren’t stupid — they’re not going to turn away free publicity for their cause, even if they don’t object to Park51’s plans. As Father Mark Arey, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America spokesman, states in my story, the controversy is “a rising tide that lifts all boats.”
If you’re interested, I could post more from my interviews with Arey and Couloucoundis. Or, are all you non-New Yorkers getting sick of Ground Zero religion news? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.