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New Liberty Park at 9/11 Memorial set to open next week

The new Liberty Park, seen here on Monday,

The new Liberty Park, seen here on Monday, June 20, 2016, will be home to 'America's Response,' a bronze sculpture depicting a modern Army Special Forces soldier on horseback. The park is expected to open next week and leads to the doors of the new St. Nicholas Church. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

A new open space of shade trees and benches at One World Trade Center is expected to open next week overlooking the September 11 Memorial reflecting pools and leading to the doors of the new St. Nicholas Church.

About 25 feet above the National September 11 Memorial Museum, the new Liberty Park will be home to “America’s Response,” a bronze sculpture depicting a modern Army Special Forces soldier on horseback. The statue, created by artist Douwe Blumberg and dedicated in 2011, honors the Special Operation unit that landed in Afghanistan just over a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and fought against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda for a year.

The park, owned by the Port Authority, can be accessed through a pedestrian walkway on West and Liberty streets. The silver-window walkway is an original World Trade Center pedestrian bridge.

“The park comes right up to the front doors of the church,” said Jerry Dimitriou, executive director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Liberty Park’s shade trees and benches set the tone for the stillness the new St. Nicholas National Shrine will provide, he said.

The church is expected to be complete in early 2018.

“As a national shrine it will be open to everyone,” Dimitriou said.

The church, which will light up at night “like a soft glowing candle,” will be a symbol of resurrection “like the rising from the ashes and a witness for all who died that day,” he said. It will have bereavement space where visitors can light candles and “sit peacefully to meditate or contemplate. There will be windows overlooking the memorial.”

The new church, whose congregation was founded in 1916, is a far cry from its humble beginning as a tavern at 155 Cedar St. It defied Wall Street’s modernization and the skyscrapers that grew up around it, remaining alone in a parking lot on Liberty Street in the shadow of the World Trade Center’s twin towers until their destruction.

Olga Pavlakos of Brooklyn, a longtime St. Nicholas parishioner, said the opening of the new park is a prelude “to how wonderful and beautiful it will be.”

Her family was one of the Greek families that lived in lower Manhattan in the 1900s and helped found the church. The parishioners remodeled and converted the tavern into a four-story church building with a bell. The church was crushed when the south tower collapsed over it.

Pavlakos said the new shrine will keep within the tradition of St. Nicholas, which was to welcome “people of all faiths.” She said as a child she recalls washing and reusing the candles lit by Wall Street office workers who came to the church on Wednesdays.

“Everybody loved the warmth of the church,” she said.

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