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Somber mood turns to cheers at Boston interfaith service

April 18, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Many of those who attended the interfaith service in Boston said they felt energized after President Obama spoke. interfaith prayer service for victims of the Boston Marathon attack.
Many of those who attended the interfaith service in Boston said they felt… (JOHN TLUMACKI / POOL / EPA )

BOSTON--Among the more than 2,000 people who attended Thursday's interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the city's South End were people injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, the doctors and nurses who treated them and fellow runners determined to show their solidarity.

They came to see the president, but also to be with one another. Some waited overnight in the cold, then stood for hours in a line that stretched for blocks. Inside, various religious leaders, including rabbis, ministers, nuns and Buddhist monks, mingled with the crowd, some comforting and hugging survivors, family and friends.

The mood at the start of the service was somber. But the crowd turned jubilant when Boston Mayor Thomas Menino took the podium, standing from his wheelchair. He had been hospitalized after surgery when news of the attacks reached him. They responded with applause, laughing at his jokes about New Yorkers playing  the Red Sox anthem “Sweet Caroline” at Yankee Stadium and flying Boston’s city flag in Manhattan.

PHOTOS: Explosions at Boston Marathon

“This is Boston: a city with courage, compassion and strength that knows no bounds,” Menino said before taking his seat again as some in the crowd wiped away tears.

When Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick followed, he thanked Menino, noting how the mayor checked himself out of the hospital Monday to help deal with the crisis, and the crowd again erupted in applause.

“We will recover and heal. We will grieve our losses and repair," Patrick promised. "We will have accountability without vengeance.”

Religious leaders urged the crowd to focus on healing and the heroic acts of kindness that followed the devastation.

FULL COVERAGE: Boston Marathon attack

“I pray the world today at this moment will look at us and see the true spirit of America,” said Bishop John M. Borders III, senior pastor at Morningstar Baptist Church in nearby Mattapan, Mass., and some in the crowd murmured, “That’s right.”

When President Obama spoke — at one point directly to hospitalized victims  — those in attendance took to their feet several times, applauding as he vowed to stand by the community and fight back against those who attacked the marathon.

“Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this terrorist act,” Obama said. “It should be pretty clear right now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston.”

“You reminded us to push on, to persevere, to not grow weary,” he said, and some in the crowd said, “Come on!”

“Even when it hurts, when our heart aches, we summon the strength we didn’t even know we had and we finish the race,” he said. “This time next year, on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great city and cheer even louder.”

Many said they left the service energized.

Tracy Corcoran of Warwick, R.I., joined with relatives and headed to nearby Boston Medical Center to visit her sister-in-law, Celeste, who Corcoran said had lost both her legs in the bombings.

"She's doing amazingly well  — far better than I would imagine," Corcoran said. She said Celeste's daughter was also still in the hospital.

Corcoran said she planned to tell her sister-in-law what the president and others said about remembering the victims.

"There's a lot of people supporting them," she said.

PHOTOS: Explosions at Boston Marathon

Some of those wounded in the explosion attended the service, including a young woman on crutches with her right leg bandaged to the knee. She had been treated at Tufts Medical Center.

Also at the service were some Boston Medical Center nurses who had treated the wounded and said they were reassured and inspired.

"In a time of tragedy, it shows how much we can come together and mourn," said Antoinette Grant, a registered nurse from Boston.

Grant said Obama's message to victims showed the attack touched the president.

"He took it very personally," she said.

Nurse Angela DeSilva said she especially appreciated the president's strong words and courage "to show we don't back down."

Dr. Natalie Stavas, who treated victims after running the marathon herself, left the service and returned to work.

"It was beautiful," she said.

Karen Richards, 50, of Pleasanton, Calif., waited in line for tickets with a running partner. They had traveled to town for their third Boston Marathon, which Richards completed just before the explosions. Officials at the church saw their race jackets and ushered them up to the eighth row, she said.

"We wanted to show support for the victims and their families and for Boston. You come to Boston and you take a piece home in your heart," she said.

Richards was close enough to feel the blast and said the service helped her "to try to process all this and heal."

Richards especially appreciated the president's analogy: "Marathon runners are like that  — we continue to go even when it gets tough."

She said she left the service with a powerful message: "United we stand. Justice will come."

Her running partner, Cheryl Babel, 58, of Danville, Calif., said she was encouraged to see so many people determined to get back to their lives.

"Boston's going to move on and continue the tradition" of the marathon, she said, although "this is really traumatic for a lot of people."

"It was just hopeful to have everyone optimistic that it will go on," she said. "That's just rejuvenated us. I've always said the Boston Marathon is humanity at its finest. People will find strength in that and move on."

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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