Published September 14, 2001
And on the fourth day, America wept.
In New York City, where the death toll from Tuesday's terrorist attack at the World Trade Center is expected to reach many thousand, Friday morning arrived with a sadness so heavy the skies above the city turned gray and cried a thunderous rain of its own tears.
Mourners fought the weather to arrive in droves at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, answering President Bush's call for a national day of remembrance by packing mass after mass to standing room only. They came alone and in groups, some carrying small American flags in their hands, some donning red, white and blue clothing. Some knelt and bowed their heads deep in prayer, some fidgeted and shifted, anxiously fighting back thoughts of the unfathomable.
In the back of the cathedral, a woman named Olga stood clutching a flickering candle in a glass holder close to her chest, a torrent of tears streaming down her face. She did not know anyone personally injured or killed in the attack, but said she was carrying the candle with her as a "light of hope."
"I just keep thinking of the children who lost their parents," she said.
Mildred, a retired corrections officer, said she didn't need to have lost someone personally in the assault to feel the enormity of the loss.
"I feel that you don't have to know them to feel what they're going through," she said, dabbing tears with a tissue. Born in Puerto Rico, Mildred said she was devastated by the attack against a city she loved. But her thoughts of retaliation were tempered by her concern for her daughter, a doctor in the U.S. Air Force.
"I believe in peace," Mildred said. "I have a daughter in the military. I have to pray for peace," she said.
In his sermon during the Roman Catholic Mass, Msgr. John Ferry said the attacks against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were "as senseless as Jesus' death on the cross" and was a "reminder of how fragile this precious gift of life is."
He urged New Yorkers, and all Americans, to hold fast to the native strength and grit that would enable the city, and the nation, to survive.
"The symbol of red, white and blue stands for something that can never be destroyed, even by the most evil act we can imagine," Ferry said. "We are saddened, we are not devastated. Death, destruction and evil will never be the final judgment of a God who loves us so deeply," he said.
Scenes like that at St. Patrick's played out at churches, synagogues and houses of worship across the country Friday, as the president urged community groups to hold the noontime vigils and asked employers to allow their workers to leave their jobs to attend the events.
At the National Cathedral in Washington, Bush joined former Presidents Clinton, Bush, Carter and Ford, members of Congress and cabinet members, for a noon prayer service.
"All our hearts have been seared by the sudden and senseless taking of innocent lives," Bush said. "We pray for healing and for the strength to serve and encourage one another in hope and faith."
As he honored the heroes of Tuesday's tragedy — the firefighters who died trying to rescue victims at the World Trade Center; the passengers who overtook the hijackers on one jet; the volunteers who have descended on New York City — Bush also declared the United State's determination to fight terrorism.
"Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history," Bush said. "But our responsibility to history is already clear, to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil."
Billy Graham also urged Americans to stay strong, saying in his sermon that the nation must choose whether to "implode and disintegrate" or become stronger and rebuild.
America's determination to stand tall, fight back and rebuild was not the only theme Friday. The country also used the services and vigils to present a united front to the world. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor, Christian, Jew and Muslim — America's celebrated diversity melted into one heritage Friday.
"We must channel our emotions into solidarity," Father Tevuzzi said in New York. In Washington, a Muslim cleric was among the clergy who spoke at the National Cathedral.
At the Islamic Center of Long Island, N.Y., prayers were said for the dead and missing. Members of the center, stunned by the many revenge assaults on Muslim-Americans since Tuesday, said they will hold three services for victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They will also collect donations for the American Red Cross.
"We're hurting, too, and we're also Americans," said Arshad Majid, a member of the center. "There were Muslim lives lost in that building, as well. We're all human and we need to get together."
Politicians, clergy and community leaders have pleaded with Americans not to target their outrage or vengeance against people who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent or belong to the Islamic faith.
At a morning service in Connecticut, Gov. John Rowland recalled his close relationship with Rev. Francis Grogan, a priest who died on United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston, one of the two commercial jet liners which crashed into the World Trade Center.
Rowland called Grogan a friend and mentor who had encouraged the governor to deepen his faith and service his community. If Grogan were still here, he would ask us to be "persuaded by our better natures," Rowland said.
Lama Surya Das of the Dzogchen Center held a Buddhist service in Cambridge, Mass.
"It's in memory of the victims and the sufferings of all and a plea not to perpetuate even more violence," Das said. "It's a plea for restraint, moderation and reason and healing and praying for peace."
At the Dallas Baha'i Center, worshippers planned to recite a "Prayer for America." On the corner of Valley and Hopyard Avenues in Pleasanton, Calif., participants waved flags and sang "God Bless America."
"We want people to feel empowered. We want them to feel positive," said Janis Mulhall, an evangelical Christian organizing the memorial in Pleasanton.
But if the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did not break America's spirit, it was clear Friday that the violence had broken the nation's heart.
At St. Patrick's, one young woman sat squeezed between strangers in a crowded pew, sobbing uncontrollably for a friend missing and presumed dead in the rubble of lower Manhattan. Across the church, a teenage boy also wept openly, but would not say why.
"I'm not Catholic or religious, I'm just looking for some support or comfort" said a young woman as she sat alone, quietly weeping, in a pew at St. Patrick's. From upstate New York, she commuted every day to her job in mid-town Manhattan.
"I didn't know anyone who was down there, but I feel like I do," she said.
Candlelight vigils, ceremonies and remembrances are scheduled throughout Friday evening across the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.