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A piece of the WTC in the Southland
by Gregg Sherrard Blesch - Staff Writer
Source: The Daily Southtown - Date: September 10th, 2006

It is strange to contemplate what it is, the 2-foot span of steel, mottled orange, black and a bit of white.

It sits in the narthex of St. Luke's Orthodox Church, which is perched on a hilltop where Palos Hills gives way to a forest preserve.

The Rev. Andrew Harrison drove to New York City in June 2002 to collect the 200-pound thing, a section of structural beam.

The object is a relic, a scrap from the heap of the World Trade Center towers that crashed to the ground five years ago tomorrow.

We will never forget, we promised then, and we may not, but memory does fade.

The relic at St. Luke's, though, is as material as flesh laid on its rough surface.

The Orthodox tradition of collecting relics is rooted in the belief that God became material in the body of Jesus.

The Cetinje Monastery in Montenegro is home to what Orthodox Christians believe to be St. John the Baptist's right hand, the hand that touched the head of Jesus as he was baptized in the Jordan River.

St. Luke's relic of the 9-11 attacks rests on a pedestal. In the cradle created by the I-shaped steel, the church has placed a tray of sand where parishioners plant candles.

Above it hangs a copper relief crafted by Harrison's hand that depicts St. Nicholas, the patron saint of an Orthodox church crushed when the towers fell. That obliterated church had been the keeper of relics of three saints.

The number 85 is painted on one side of the beam at St. Luke's, because it is just one among many fragments set aside and given away for memorials all over the country.

Although the veneration of relics has a specific tradition in the Orthodox church, the impulse to forge a physical connection with the horrifying attacks was not unique to the denomination or even uniquely religious.

Other sections of beam rest in parks and civic memorials.

A massive piece stands upright, 22 feet high, at a firefighter training center in Los Angeles near Dodger Stadium.

During memorial services St. Luke's holds each Sept. 11, strangers join parishioners in approaching the relic, moved to the center of the sanctuary for the day.

"They'll sit in here, and they'll weep," Harrison said. "We don't know who they are."

With a letter of approval from the city, Harrison stood in his black robe at ground zero nine months after the attacks. Two workers in orange vests put torch to steel to separate the piece and heaved it into the back of Harrison's rented van.

An Orthodox parish in New York later wrote to Harrison and asked for a piece of it, so the St. Luke's priest obliged and chiseled off a few shards from a jagged edge.

In exchange came a handful of crumbled concrete collected from the hole smashed in the western wall of the Pentagon.

Harrison put the pieces in a glass polyhedron his wife once used for jewelry, and then rested the vessel in the sand.

To complete the collection, a parishioner may soon obtain soil from the field in Pennsylvania where United Flight 93 crashed, delivering the day's single, sad triumph against the attackers.

An 80,000-square-foot hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport holds more than 1,000 items from the World Trade Center site that may one day be distributed and themselves become relics.

"Right now we're just storing it," said Steve Coleman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In that hangar is a 50-ton steel beam that was laid to rest on a flatbed truck and draped in a black shroud for the ceremony May 30, 2002, marking the end of the cleanup and recovery work at ground zero.

With it are more mundane artifacts: parts of the towers' antennae, turnstiles, cars and racks from retail stores, still hung with shirts and ties.

Harrison had mailed a query to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg asking for a token from the World Trade Center site, a piece of glass for instance, that would be embedded in the bell tower erected in that year.

What St. Luke's received, however, is bigger and heavier. Harrison intends to fulfill what comes with it, this year and every year.

"We have a responsibility to the departed," he said. "We're also praying, for the terrorists and would-be terrorists, that their hearts would be changed."

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