May 6th, 2011
11:23 AM ET
By Padmananda Rama, CNN
New York (CNN) - As President Obama visited Ground Zero Thursday, the church that served as a home for volunteers and first responders on 9/11 was filled with memories of that day.
“I do remember when 9/11 happened,” said 17-year-old Rebekah Ritter, who was visiting St. Paul’s Chapel with a youth choir from Pennsylvania.
“I was only in second grade. I just find it amazing that this church is still here. And I just love the fact, coming in here looking at a miracle, that it’s still here and seeing how it’s helped so many people.”
The stone chapel, erected in the late 1700s, stands just across the street from the site of the World Trade Center. In the days following 9/11, the church was quickly transformed into a staging area for volunteers who helped first responders and families searching for loved ones. Photos of the missing were posted along the church’s gates.
This week, the chapel once again served as a place to reflect on recent events. In the hours following news of Osama bin Laden’s death, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who rushed to Lower Manhattan following the attacks, returned to St. Paul’s.
“It was great to see him on this occasion. It seemed a natural place to be,” said the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, the chapel’s rector.
On Thursday, as the president stopped across the street and met privately with families who lost loved ones on 9/11, members of the choir from Tioga County, Pennsylvania, were inside the church singing hymns on the theme of home.
As they sang for nearly an hour, visitors streamed into the chapel, some lighting candles, others stopping to offer prayers. Tourists stopped to view the memorials and images along the church walls of victims of the 9/11 attacks.
“I think we knew the songs we were going to sing here needed to reflect in some way just the all that happened here, all the sacrifice that happened,” said choir director Thomas Putnam.
The choir, which regularly travels to perform at churches across the country, planned its stop at St. Paul’s months before the president’s decision to visit New York. Yet this week, in the days following news of bin Laden’s death, members of the choir did not miss the significance.
“I kept thinking how we were coming here and how we were going to the place where [bin Laden] caused the most damage,” said 13-year-old Jacob Ritter. “I think it’s more than a coincidence.”
Putnam and other choir members said the stanzas of their final song, “We Will Be a Shelter for Each Other,” held the most significance:
“This place is a monument to that [message],” said Rebekah Ritter. “When the twin towers came down, it was a shelter for all those people. It was a very fitting song for what happened and for remembering now, 10 years later.”
One of the youngest members of the choir, 10-year-old Aidan Putnam, reflected on the question, “What does home mean to you?”
After pausing for a response, he decided, “Home is a place where you are safe.”
Before leaving the chapel, Ritter added, “There has to be a reason it’s still standing.”
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