BOSTON — Amid heightened security and facing a packed audience, President Obama on Thursday urged this city and nation to put aside its fears and tragedies and reclaim the spirit and grace that had been disrupted by terrorist bombs.
The crowd, including civic and political dignitaries and some of the runners and families caught in the twin blasts at the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon, looked on as Obama stepped to the lectern at Boston’s famed Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Cross for an interfaith service.
The ceremony, called simply “Healing Our City,” was both a memorial for the victims and plea for recovery.
When it was his turn, the president bounded up the steps from the front-row pew where he had sat next to his wife, Michelle, and his friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who had spoken earlier of how his state had invented America. It is the American Revolution that is commemorated in the state’s Patriots’ Day and its legendary annual marathon that was attacked by two explosive devices at the finish line.
“Boston is the perfect state of grace,” said the president, quoting a poetic description of the city that was torn by the blasts. “In an instant the day’s beauty was shattered. A celebration became a tragedy.
“And so we come together to pray and mourn and measure our loss,” Obama said. “But we also come together today to reclaim that state of grace. To reaffirm that the spirit of this city is undaunted and the spirit of the country shall remain undimmed.”
For Obama, who has attended services and memorials for tragedies in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo. and Tucson, Ariz., the visit to Boston was just his latest task in seeking to help a nation heal while resolutely looking ahead.
“We may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we’ll pick ourselves up, we’ll keep going. We will finish the race,” he said.
Earlier, the president had signed a declaration of emergency to aid the city and state, and in his comments he again pledged to help those victimized by the bombs.
“As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you. Your commonwealth is with you. Your country is with you,” Obama told the crowd of about 2,000 attending the service, which was broadcast nationwide. “We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk — and yes, run again. I have no doubt, you will run again.”
Obama also repeated the theme he has sounded in recent days since the explosions tore through the heart of the city, killing three and wounding more than 170. No suspects have been named and no claim of responsibility has been made, but officials have been working feverishly to recover physical clues and curry leads from surveillance videos.
“Yes, we will find you,” Obama warned the unknown assailants. “And yes, you will face justice. We will find you, we will hold you accountable — but more than that, our fidelity to our way of life, to our free and open society, will only grow stronger.”
After speaking, Obama met with hundreds of people affiliated with the marathon’s Boston Athletic Assn. and was headed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was to meet with some of the wounded, their families and medical staff.
Obama’s speech was the capstone in the about 90-minute service that included ministers, pastors and rabbis of many faiths and denominations. Each member of the clergy urged everyone to transcend the terror created by the bombings and called for love to triumph over despair and fear.
“Your compassionate presence is a signal of the triumph of order over chaos,” Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel in Boston, said, after thanking the visiting figures. “We would wish our prayers this morning to not only hold those in this city but also those in Newtown and now, sadly, in West, Texas,” he said of the mass shooting in Connecticut and the deadly inferno that struck a small city in Texas overnight.
The bombings “are a stark reminder of the darkness that can lurk in human hearts,” Roman Catholic Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, told the gathered. “Our presence here today is an act of solidarity.”
“Love is stronger than death,” he said later.
Sitting in the audience were several former Massachusetts governors, including Mitt Romney, the man Obama defeated for the presidency in November. But politics, the civic religion, was notably bipartisan.
“Let us not lose touch with out civic faith,” Gov. Patrick cautioned. “Massachusetts invented America,” he said to applause. “An attack on our civic rituals like the marathon, especially on Patriots’ Day, is an attack on our values. … We must not allow darkness and hate to triumph over our civic faith. That cannot happen.”
Of all of the leaders who spoke, it was Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, in a wheelchair for an issue unrelated to the bombing, who was among the most resolute and feisty.
“Nothing will take us down, because we take care of one another,” Menino said. “Even with the smell of smoke in the air and blood in the streets and tears in our eyes, we triumphed over that hateful act.”
Times staff writer Hennessy-Fiske reported from Boston; Muskal reported from Los Angeles.