Obama offers comfort and resolve at Boston service

BOSTON — The Globe and Mail

President Barack Obama speaks during an interfaith healing service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, April 18, 2013.

President Barack Obama struck a resilient tone in Boston on Thursday, offering hope and defiant patriotism to a shell-shocked city – and nation – in obvious need of healing.

“Your country is with you,” he said at a packed interfaith service for the three killed and more than 170 injured in Monday’s blasts.

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“We will all be with you as you learn to stand, and walk, and run again. You will run again.”

Thousands flocked to the service at a Washington Street cathedral, attended by the family of at least one of the victims, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, as well as political bigwigs, first responders, blue-and-yellow-clad Boston Marathon runners, artists and hundreds of citizens who queued at dawn for a coveted entry ticket.

Though the three who died – Ms. Campbell, eight-year-old Martin Richard and Chinese national Lu Lingzi – were individually honoured, the service was about the city as a whole.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross, with its soaring ceilings and sunshine-smacked stained-glass windows, served as a vessel for communal healing, a platform for some of the state’s most visible leaders as they offered words of comfort.

With First Lady Michelle Obama looking on, Mr. Obama vowed to find the attacker responsible for the twin bombings. “We will find you,” he said. “We will hold you accountable.”

There were tears and sniffles and hugs and heads that fell onto neighbouring shoulders, but also applause and uproarious laughter at the President’s mention of sports rivalries.

Outside, though, police and Secret Service were on high alert, knowing the attackers are at large and that this hallowed place could be targeted. People in stores and at street corners commented on the city’s ramped-up security, with some lamenting that there was not yet a face to put to the bloodshed.

Many here have said Monday’s attack would not tear their city apart – that the tragedy had, in fact, woven their civic fabric ever tighter, inciting patriotism and anger instead of defeat. But those same people also spoke of an eerie vulnerability.

This has been a tumultuous week for America: A poisonous letter bound for the White House; bomb-scare evacuations at an Oklahoma City municipal building and at the Boston federal courthouse; dozens of reports of suspicious packages; heightened airport security at hubs nationwide; political angst after a failed Senate gun-control vote months after the Connecticut school shootings; and on Wednesday night, news of a deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant.

The President’s remarks Thursday, then, assumed even more import. His words would be streamed into the homes and offices of Americans nationwide, some shaken by this week’s myriad scares and others by Monday’s painful evocation of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Judging by the emotion the President elicited from attendees – including former Massachusetts governors Mitt Romney and Michael Dukakis; Hollywood actor Bradley Cooper and Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – his address was the indisputable climax.

A close second, though, was Governor Deval Patrick, whose soaring rhetoric served as a building crescendo that bridged remarks by outgoing Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the President.

Neither politics nor partisanship were on the agenda Thursday – Mr. Obama did not mention the failed Senate bill and he thanked Mr. Romney, his presidential challenger, for attending the service. Still, as Mayor Menino heads toward retirement, Gov. Patrick, a Democrat, was confirmed at the altar as a rising political star.

He spoke of spiritual and civic faith triumphing over hate, of recovery and repair, and of patriotism. His powerful delivery drew hoots, hollers and shouts of “Amen!”

The 56-year-old governor is now in his second term, having once served as assistant United States Attorney-General for the civil-rights division under President Bill Clinton.

Days ago, Gov. Patrick was thrust into the national spotlight when he stepped into shoes once worn by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Like Mr. Giuliani after the Sept. 11 attacks and Gov. Christie after a storm swallowed parts of his city in November, Gov. Patrick’s words and actions are now being scrutinized by onlookers who view him as a potential presidential candidate.

As the state’s first black governor, he, like the President, is a marker of this country’s social progress and a source of African American pride. Gov. Patrick, who sat next to Mr. Obama during the service, reminded his nation Thursday that “Massachusetts invented America” – a line that drew among the day’s loudest applause.

Nat Anglin, a teacher who said he knew one of the victims, had been moved to tears several times but, as a proud Bostonian, he clapped at the governor’s prideful line.

As for the fact that no one had been arrested so far, Mr. Anglin said he is confident the perpetrators will face justice: “I have full faith that they won’t escape this.”