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Ecumenical Prayer Service Gives Comfort to Thousands


NEW YORK — Thousands gathered Sunday at Yankee Stadium for an interfaith service during which religious and political leaders prayed for healing from the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attack.

"We need courage to deal with our pain," Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan said during the invocation. "We need justice to deal with the evildoers who have harmed us so fiercely. We need faith, wisdom and strength of soul."

The prevailing mood was serene and subdued at the nationally broadcast service, which drew about 25,000 mourners. The free event was originally planned for Central Park, where as many as 1 million people were expected, but city officials switched the venue, reportedly because of security concerns.

Attendees had been urged to obtain tickets for the service in advance. The demand was light, however, and firefighters and police handed tickets out at the gates.

Adm. Robert J. Natter, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, got a rousing cheer when he issued this warning to the "terrorist enemy" responsible for the attacks: "You picked the wrong city. You picked the wrong country."

None of the speakers offered hope that survivors could still be found under the debris. City officials Sunday revised upward the number of missing to 6,453, an increase of 120 from the day before.

Instead, prayers were offered for the comfort of the victim's families and friends, many of whom came to pray with ribbons and photos of missing loved ones.

"I feel a lot of support," said Enid Cruz, who was holding a poster of her missing uncle, Abner Morales.

"When you're home alone watching it, it seems like you're the only one who's going through it," she said. "But here, everyone is a victim."

Speakers extolled the bravery of firefighters, police officers and rescue workers who perished trying to save others at the World Trade Center.

"We saw terrorism bring the World Trade Center to ground zero," said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the city fire department's chaplain. "But we saw heroism bring ground zero to the heavens."

The ceremony was hosted by talk show personality Oprah Winfrey. It also featured actor James Earl Jones, who said the "nation is united as never before. We are united not only in our grief but also in our resolve to build a better world."

In rollicking old-time religion style, the Rev. Calvin Butts, president of the Council of Churches of the City of New York, repeated the theme when he asked people to hold hands and say to their neighbors, "Together we'll get through this."

The 2 1/2-hour service featured the blowing of a shofar, typically done during Jewish High Holy Days, and a Muslim call to prayer. Sikh and Hindu leaders also spoke.

The diversity melded into one, however, when nearly everyone in the crowd waved small American flags as country singer Lee Greenwood sang "God Bless the USA."

Former President Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), joined other political leaders including Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Performers included Placido Domingo, the renowned tenor and artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera, who sang "Ave Maria," singer Bette Midler, who brought many to tears with her rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings," and the Boys Choir of Harlem.

The crowd reserved its loudest applause for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. He spoke about the "small miracle" of St. Paul's Chapel, built in 1766, where George Washington prayed immediately after his inauguration. The church, which stood in the World Trade Center's shadow, survived "without so much as a broken window," he said.

Such remarks were uplifting, said Jack Lynch, a Bronx resident who wore a photo button of his missing 30-year-old son, Michael, a Manhattan firefighter.

"I felt a great sense of unity with other people," said Lynch, 66. "There's still that sense of loss and sense of sadness. That's still there, but my hope hasn't diminished.

"I know Michael's with God."


Times staff writer Michael Krikorian contributed to this report.

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