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Thousands grieve, pray at ballpark Add to ...

Capping a weekend of mourning and reflection across the United States, thousands assembled in New York's Yankee Stadium yesterday to pray with spiritual and political leaders and listen to entertainers offer songs and words of condolence in the wake of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center.

With Oprah Winfrey acting as host, A Prayer for America served as both an interfaith prayer service and a passionate display of secular flag-waving solidarity for a country still reeling from the attacks.

For almost three hours, a steady stream of New York's clergy -- Jews, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, Sikhs -- offered prayers and challenged the crowd to demonstrate tolerance in a trying time.

Spontaneous standing ovations greeted dignitaries and celebrities as they filed onto the field before the event, including former U.S. president Bill Clinton. Opera singer Placido Domingo sang Ave Maria and Bette Midler sang Wind Beneath My Wings, both to huge applause. But the greatest cheers were reserved for New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has emerged as a hero to the city in the past two weeks.

"On Sept. 11, New York city suffered the darkest day in our history. It's now up to us to make it its finest hour," he said. "To those who say our city will never be the same, I say: You are right. It will be better."

Though victims of the attacks included foreign nationals from more than 60 countries, if there were family members at the stadium mourning those from countries other than the United States, they were not easy to find. Images of the U.S. flag were everywhere: printed on T-shirts and jeans, festooned on necklaces and emblazoned on bandannas atop the tiny heads of infants held against the chests of their flag-waving parents. Small flags and cards with the words to God Bless America were distributed as people filed into the stadium.

The event began with a performance of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and included the presentation of colours by Admiral Robert Natter, Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet. Adm. Natter told the crowd the U.S. flag was raised to full-staff on the country's battleships around the world yesterday. "The flag will lead us to victory," he proclaimed. "To this terrorist enemy, we say: You picked the wrong city. You picked the wrong country."

With the event intended partly as a demonstration of courage and resolve against an unseen enemy, security precautions illustrated that the country, and especially New York, remain on edge. The gathering was relocated from Central Park, where a crowd of one million had been expected, to the baseball stadium, where fewer than 30,000 showed up amid conflicting reports about the availability of tickets.

More than 2,500 police officers patrolled the streets around the stadium, which were closed to vehicular traffic, and conducted thorough searches of bags. Sanitation trucks blocked the stadium's access roads as a precautionary measure against car bombs.

Signs that life was slowly resuming in the country came as the National Football League returned to its schedule yesterday after postponing games after the Sept. 11 attacks.

But things were not quite back to normal. The New York Giants donned hats of their city's police and firefighters when not wearing helmets during their game in Kansas City against the Chiefs.

Security was tighter at all the arenas. Fans were barred from bringing in bags, coolers and other items.

Inside Yankee Stadium, Ellen Halloran was weeping at the damage the attacks had inflicted on the city. Though she had not lost any friends or relatives in the Trade Center's twin towers, she wanted to be with others during a dark period of the city's history. "I'm a native New Yorker and I just feel the need to share this with others," she said. "This is a very strange time in New York. People are being so nice to each other. It all makes you feel a little less alone."

At the top of the stadium, Carolyn Davis-Winston sat with her son and 26 other family members in memory of Clinton Davis, her 38-year-old brother who worked as a police officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which was headquartered at the Trade Center.

"He was my baby brother," she said. Pinned to her chest was a photocopied 1995 newspaper clipping from USA Today, showing Mr. Davis standing proudly in front of the twin towers after security had been beefed up in the wake of the 1993 terrorist attack against the Trade Center. "I feel a lot better than I did when I first came here," said Ms. Davis-Winston at the end of the service. "It's nice to see everyone come together. But it's a shame that it took something like this to get us together."

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