Rev. Suzan D. Johnson Cook delivers the keynote address at...

Rev. Suzan D. Johnson Cook delivers the keynote address at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Heritage Sanctuary, in Atlanta, (Jan. 17, 2005) Credit: AP

When the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook becomes President Barack Obama's religious freedom advocate, she will take with her the message of tolerance and respect for all religions that she honed after the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11.

"I remember that night at 10 p.m. we were called down to Ground Zero. When I got there a strong Irish firefighter grabbed me to pray. I did not ask him what his religion was. . . . This was the moment we needed God," she said in an interview with Newsday Wednesday.

Cook says she expects to take her oath next week as the State Department's ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

The first woman and African-American to serve as an NYPD chaplain, Cook offered a prayer for Obama's Ground Zero visit Thursday at her last lunchtime sermon at John Street Church -- a stone's throw from the site.

For 13 years, Cook has been preaching to middle-class and working-class office workers -- mostly African-American women -- many of whom were affected by 9/11.

In a farewell in the packed Methodist church, she said: "After 9/11, this has been a real place of connection for hope where people have come back to get their life back.

"I take you with me to Washington. I could not have managed without you," she told the congregation of several hundred. "You have become the wind beneath my wings. I need you to survive."

Several at her final sermon did not know about her new job with the State Department.

"We have been coming here for years and we had no idea that today was her last day here and she was going to Washington to work for the president," said Irene Prince, 55, of Brooklyn, who works for a nonprofit agency several blocks away.

"This service has always been uplifting -- giving me the opportunity to refuel and rejuvenate," said Cathi Kim, 29, of Bayside, Queens, who works with Prince and who also did not know Cook was moving to Washington.

Cook lives in Sag Harbor and hails from the Bronx. She resigns this week as one of the chaplains for the NYPD.

As Obama's spiritual ambassador, Cook will be required to travel the globe "advocating the choice to believe or not believe," she said, adding she will be "listening to people and learning from them their culture and begin that first level of respect."

"God has prepared me," she said. "I grew up in a multiethnic neighborhood in the Bronx. We would jump rope together. Play ball together, and then we went to our different churches on Sundays, and synagogues on Saturdays, and then came back together again."

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