A day of prayer for strength

Sun Staff

From the most powerful leaders in Washington to the humblest of cabbies in New York, the nation paused in prayer yesterday, gathering in grand cathedrals and tiny churches to mourn those lost in Tuesday's terrorist attacks and to gather resolve for the trying times ahead.

Factories closed so workers could attend services, mosques and synagogues welcomed the faithful and offered hopes of peace. Town squares from the West Coast to the East were filled with words of promise, songs of prayer and, in some cases, cheers for the country.

In Washington, President Bush led the country in a day of remembrance at the National Cathedral. In attendance were his father and three other former presidents, congressional leaders, all nine Supreme Court justices and hundreds of everyday citizens, some who sobbed quietly, others who wept openly.

Bush appeared to be fighting back tears as he greeted his father with a handshake, but as he stood before those assembled he spoke hopefully of heaven for those who were lost and threateningly of war for those who took more than 5,000 lives in Tuesday's attacks.

"This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger," the president said. "This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing."

When the president finished his remarks and returned to his seat, his father reached over, grabbed his hand and offered a paternal squeeze of approval.

As if to underscore the delicate balance of sorrow, unity and conviction, sitting next to each other and together singing the Lord's Prayer were former President Bill Clinton and his predecessor, the elder George Bush.

Later they, and Al Gore, joined the others in attendance in singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," voices reverberating off the marble floors to the ceilings of the soaring cathedral as tears slid silently down cheeks.

The Rev. Billy Graham, stooped in illness, rose to offer the main sermon after remarks by Muslim and Jewish spiritual leaders.

"Today, we say to those who masterminded this cruel plot and to those who carried it out, the spirit of this nation will not be defeated by their twisted and diabolical schemes," Graham said.

"We're facing a new kind of enemy. We're involved in a new kind of warfare, and we need the help of the spirit of God."

At the Pentagon, one-third of which is out of commission because of damage from one of the hijacked planes, about 350 people representing all service branches crowded into a fifth-floor auditorium for a noon prayer service. An additional 75 people sat in folding chairs and watched on closed-circuit television in a corridor outside the auditorium.

Blown-out windows and missing sections of roof were visible from the corridor's windows.

There was moment a silence for the dead, many of whom were known by those at the service. A gospel singer sang the Lord's Prayer, and civilians and uniformed personnel clasped hands.

The need for prayer was nowhere more pronounced than in New York.

There, lines of people snaked outside overflowing midtown churches. People traveled from one church to another trying to find a seat, thousands of them succeeding, thousands more not.

Flags everywhere

In the churches, on the street, in the subway and elsewhere, people wore small American flags.

At St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, a driver pulled his yellow cab to a stop. He had no passenger. He got out of his car, stood next to it for 10 minutes with head bowed and then drove away.

Across from the cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue department store's windows had no fashion displays. Instead there were only black backgrounds and lettering: "With Sadness."

Inside the church, the Rev. Michael Tavuzzi told his flock not to fear their emotions, but to use them to overcome the actions of people who live to kill.

"We have to channel our emotions into solidarity," he said. "Solidarity means being united, it means being tough, and it means being strong."

Not all the memorials were in places of worship. Bush had asked that Americans pause at noon for a moment of silence, and as a light rain sprinkled Manhattan yesterday, hundreds were gathered at Union Square, heads bowed as they stood before a memorial of flowers, candles and pictures.

In the center of the 10-foot circle was a large candle draped with an American flag and wooden crosses.

Flowers and teddy bears

And among the lilies, sunflowers and roses that surrounded the candle lay teddy bears, sodden flags and posters and postcards of the World Trade Center.

In one corner, someone had placed a solitary black pump. Someone had inked "Goodbye" on a postcard of the twin towers.

And all around the offerings, strangers stood side by side, occasionally wiping tears from their eyes and breaking the silence only to help each other keep the candles lighted as the rain fell.

"It touches your heart when you can come together with other people who are similarly heartbroken," said Linda Drost, 30, a Manhattan merchandiser whose eyes moistened after she put down a bouquet of flowers.

"It's affected all of us too much. I see people crying on the subway, and I start to cry."

Elsewhere, about 3,000 people gathered before the Florida Capitol at noon, as Christian, Jewish and Muslim representatives stood in front of a huge American flag and prayed for strength and for peace.

In California, Disneyland - which calls itself "the happiest place on Earth" - went silent at noon.

The park shut down its rides, shows were darkened and music was stopped as guests on Main Street turned to face flags and sing "God Bless America."

In Princeton, N.J., calls have been coming in nonstop to the American Red Cross office.

For a brief time yesterday, they went unanswered.

"OK, everybody, we are taking a break," said Executive Director Kevin Sullivan, who coordinates the Red Cross relief efforts statewide.

For two minutes, he said, the phones were turned off, the television turned down.

"Even though we're Red Cross workers with a mission of relief, we're Americans and have emotions."

Images flickered on the TV from the prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington. There was the president. A boy's choir. A man crying and hugging his wife.

For what seemed like a long time, no one said anything. Then Sullivan rubbed his hand over his eyes.

"OK," he said, "back to work."

Hymns and chanting

At St. Paul's Church in Concord, N.H., mourners called out the names of loved ones missing or hurt. For comfort they sang "Amazing Grace."

At Chicago's Daley Center Plaza, the scene more resembled a pep rally. Thousands of people waved American flags while chanting, "USA! USA!"

Church bells pealed through throughout the heartland and beyond. In Oklahoma City, the site of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building, hundreds of people gathered to sing "God Bless America."

They stood under an American elm, a survivor from that blast.

And in Boston, where two of the flights that toppled the World Trade Center originated, political leaders joined more than 300 others for a subdued service at historic Old North Church.

With a raw drizzle falling, the assemblage shuffled into the 278-year-old church's boxy wooden pews and heard, among other messages, a plea for peace, and not revenge.

"We need to be much more humble in our assumptions about God and diligently remove religion as a source of hatred in this world," said the Rev. Stephen T. Ayres.

For too long, he said, Christians, Jews and Muslims have spilled blood "in the name of the same God."

Stragglers who could not find a seat stood in front of the brick church straining to hear. They mingled with construction workers who earlier staged a spontaneous flag-waving ceremony and chanted, "USA! USA!"

At the end of the service, those in attendance spilled from the bright white interior of the church into the drizzle.

Many people were crying as they gathered on the sidewalk and on the narrow street.

One woman's eyes were dry. She explained it simply, saying she had no tears left.

Sun staff writers Jeff Barker, Gady A. Epstein, David L. Greene, Holly Selby and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan contributed to this report.

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