But Obama stirred his listeners most when he cited the city’s grace and grit and generosity as examples of the best of America.
“Every third Monday in April, you welcome people from all around the world to the Hub — for friendship and fellowship and healthy competition,” he said, referring to the city’s beloved marathon, which was founded 117 years ago.
Turning the marathon to a metaphor for perseverance in life, he continued, “Even when our heart aches, we summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had. We finish the race.”
His next words were nearly drowned out by applause as most of the 2,000 listeners rose to their feet: “And this time next year, on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this city and run harder than ever, and cheer louder than ever, for the 118th Boston Marathon. Bet on it.”
It was meant to be a day of continued physical and emotional healing, and the the theme of the prayer service was just that: Healing Our City. The president was accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Among others in the cathedral were family members of Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager from Medford, Mass., who was killed. Obama met with the family before the service.
Also present were more than a dozen teachers and administrators from the Neighborhood House Charter School, where 8-year-old Martin Richard was in the third grade. He was killed and his mother and younger sister remain hospitalized. The girl, in the first grade, lost a leg, according to a school official.
“I think just the president remembering Martin and offering prayers for the recovery of his sister and his mom, that helped a lot,” said Dominic Slowey, a school spokesman. “The prayer service is part of the healing process for the school.”
The other fatality was a 23-year-old graduate student from China, Lu Lingzi.
People began gathering outside the church shortly after midnight to get free tickets and many attendees said they felt the same sense of balm and comfort.
“It was one great motivational speech after another,” said Chief Jim Hooley of Boston Emergency Medical Services, who treated injured spectators at the bomb scene. “At the end, with the president, you felt like you were at a revival meeting, and you just wanted to get back out there to work.”
“We, as a city, have along way to go to heal, and it really helps to know we have this much support,” said Barbara Ferrer, Boston’s public health commissioner.