BOSTON, Mass. — With sunshine streaming through the stained-glass of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, a shaken city gathered today in faith to remember three young lives lost, to pray for 174 injured, to salute the ranks of brave first responders and to thank so many selfless citizens who helped after the Patriots’ Day bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
In an interfaith ceremony presided over by leaders of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other traditions and led by city, state and federal political leaders, including President Barack Obama, a powerful and healing message was delivered of resiliency, resolve and a collective restoration of faith in what Boston is all about, and what it represents to the country and to the world.
“Boston may be your home town, but we claim it, too. It is one of America’s iconic cities, one of the world’s great cities,” the president said to the packed pews of the cathedral in a 90-minute ceremony punctuated by scripture and song, tears and laughter and an uplifting spirit of determination in the face of a senseless act of violence.
“We come today to reaffirm that the spirit of this city is undaunted and the spirit of this country shall remain undimmed,” said President Obama.
“I’m here today on behalf of the American people with a simple message: Every one of us has been touched by this attack on your beloved city. Every one of us stands with you.”
The president traveled to Boston to visit with bereaved families and the seriously injured who are still at Massachusetts General Hospital. First Lady Michelle Obama visited Children’s Hospital.
The interfaith ceremony provided a collective meditation on faith in a time of crisis and how a community perseveres through such a destructive act of hatred and violence.
And it brought forth a set of stirring and purposeful sermons from community faith leaders, including: Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church; Rev. Nancy S. Taylor of Old South Church near the finish line of the Marathon; Rabbi Ronne Friedman, senior rabbi at Boston’s Temple Israel; Nasser Weddady, a youth leader of the Islamic American Congress and a human rights activist who works with reformers across the Middle East; and Boston’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
O’Malley served as host of the ceremony in a 19th century, red-brick church that lies in South Boston and which has been at the heart of Boston’s story of Irish, Italian, Polish, Brazilian, Dominican and the wave after wave of Catholic immigrants who brought so much to the city through its history.
O’Malley, dressed in the simple brown robes of his Franciscan Order, quoted St. Francis in his plea to God: “Where there is hatred: let me sow love. Where there is injury: pardon. Where there is despair: hope. Where there is sadness: joy.”
And Weddady read a passage from the Koran that he said he first heard when he was seven years old and had experienced a bombing in Syria before he immigrated to the United States.
The Koran passage read, “Whoever kills a soul, it as if he kills mankind entirely. And whoever saves a life, it is as if he saved all mankind.”
Then referring to the aftermath of the two explosive devices that wrought so much carnage on Monday, he said, “We saw souls murdered, but also souls saved.”
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick used his time at the lectern to remind those gathered of a civic belief.
“Just as we are taught not to lose touch with our spiritual faith, let us also not lose touch with our civic faith,” said Patrick.
Patrick spoke about the meaning of the state and Boston’s connection to the founding ideas of America and the first battle for its freedom, which is re-enacted in Lexington and Concord on Patriots’ Day every year and celebrated with the running of the marathon and a Red Sox game at Fenway.
“Massachusetts invented America. … We are organized by a set of civic values. ... And an attack on a civil ritual like the Marathon, especially on Patriots’ Day, is an attack on those values,” he said to strong applause.
“Just as we cannot let darkness and hate triumph over our spiritual faith, we must not permit darkness and hate to triumph over our civic faith. That cannot happen, and it will not,” Patrick added.
For many in the pews, for thousands more lined up outside who did not get a seat, for the wider circle of citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who viewed the service on television and for those in the country and the world watching the interfaith gathering, it was a day of reflection and for many, a day of prayer.
For all, an act of violence always stirs a profound question in one word: “Why?” And so often it can lead to questions of faith and belief and how a community sees and understands the world. They are questions often framed in private and for some the search for answers leads to prayer. Today, the conversation about the meaning of faith in a time of violence was made public.
The interfaith gathering closed with the soothing strains of the Boston Children’s Chorus and the strings of the virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a slow and steady version of the hymn, “America the Beautiful.”