Thousands of New Yorkers came Sunday to Yankee Stadium, where generations have come to cheer and forget their problems, to grieve and remember the victims of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
The infield of the 78-year-old ballpark in the Bronx became a stage and altar for the two-hour interfaith service, "A Prayer For America." The base paths were edged with bouquets of yellow and white asters and chrysanthemums, the pitcher's mound covered in red, white and blue flowers.
Those who came received roses, tissues and small American flags. Many carried fliers depicting the missing. Others wore T-shirts or buttons showing the faces of the lost. Few were without tears as the service unfolded.
"We need to have some closure today or some help getting closure, but I don't think we'll ever have complete closure," said Lauri Bruck of Queens. "It will be an open wound forever. You put it aside and try to move on with daily life, but it's a different place."
More than 55,000 people were expected, but attendance was far lower. Some said concerns about ticket availability may have kept people away.
Designed to incorporate music and prayers from several religions, the service drew a long list of prominent clerics, singers and political dignitaries.
Most of the prayers, whether in English, Spanish, Arabic or other languages, gave thanks for the bravery of the rescue workers, emphasized the unity of Americans of all races and religions and voiced the hope that America's leaders would seek divine guidance in their search for justice.
As the rousing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" rang out through the stadium, the assembled clergy and dignitaries took their seats on risers at second base.
The clergy included Cardinal Edward Egan, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York; Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Jewish chaplain of the New York Fire Department; Imam Izak-El Pasha, Muslim chaplain of the New York Police Department; and a host of other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh clerics.
Politicians on hand included New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New York Gov. George Pataki, former President Bill Clinton and his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.); Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and former New York Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins.
Headlining entertainers were singers Bette Midler, Placido Domingo, Lee Greenwood and Marc Anthony.
Actor James Earl Jones, who co-hosted the event with Oprah Winfrey, opened the service, saying in his famously deep baritone: "Today we offer a prayer for America. Twelve days ago, New York City suffered the most devastating act of terrorism in human history. ... In response, our nation is united as never before. We are united not only in our grief, but in our resolve to build a better world."
Under heavy security, including police helicopters buzzing overhead, the crowd cheered comments by Adm. Robert Natter, commander in chief of the Navy's Atlantic fleet, as the colors were presented. "Our flag is much, much more than a symbol. It is a living testimony of our American spirit. It will lead America to victory" over an enemy for whom he had a warning: "You picked the wrong city. You picked the wrong country."
Delivering the first invocation, Egan said, "In our hospitals, hundreds suffer. In our homes, thousands mourn. ... We need courage to deal with our pain. We need justice to deal with the evil-doers who have harmed us."
Speaking after Egan, Potasnik urged the crowd "to find shalom, to find salaam and to find peace," using the Hebrew and Arabic words for peace.
Giuliani's appearance on the podium brought thunderous applause and chants of "Rudy! Rudy!" from the crowd. "The proud twin towers that once graced our skyline no longer stand," he said. "But our skyline will rise again. In the words of President George W. Bush: `We will rebuild New York City.'
"To those who say our city will never be the same, I say you are right. It will be better," the mayor said to cheers.
Imam condemns terrorists
A Muslim cleric denounced the terrorists who he said had defamed Islam.
"Let those of you who are here today, take this word out. We are one America, made up of all the beautiful faces and beautiful colors. That is what is unique in America and we will not change," said Pasha, the police chaplain.
Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, asked the assembled to join hands and tell their neighbors, "Together, we'll get through this." All over the stadium people did just that.
When countrGreenwood began singing "God Bless the USA," the crowd immediately rose to its feet to sing along to the words, "I'm proud to be an American."
The service concluded with the crowd on its feet, slowly waving flags as they sang "America, the Beautiful" led by pop star Anthony.
Families of the victims said they felt better after seeing the unity in the crowd. "There are so many beautiful things to remember," said Blanca Arzu of the Bronx, who said her niece, Helen Cook, is among the more-than 6,400 people still missing.
"Every religion, every race prayed for America here," she said.
Retired New York Police Detective Edward Lentol and his wife, Leondra, said they lost many friends in the attacks. Asked what she took from Sunday's service, Leondra Lentol fought back tears and slowly replied:
"This made it real ... which was something I didn't want to face ... but I have to face it."
Tribune national correspondent Lisa Anderson contributed to this report.