An emotional service of prayer, patriotism

Memorial: About 15,000 mourners gather at Yankee Stadium to honor those who died in terrorist attacks Sept. 11 and to issue a message of unity

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 24, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- Yankee Stadium, this city's stage for countless triumphs, became the nation's stage yesterday for mournful tragedy, in an emotional ceremony of prayer and patriotism.

By subway, bus, car and foot, more than 15,000 mourners, including many rescue workers, relatives and friends of the missing, made a solemn journey to the Bronx and tearfully looked to God at the House that Ruth Built.

"Today we offer a prayer for America," actor James Earl Jones said in opening remarks. "Together, we will face the future with hope, people of many faiths but one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The three-hour interfaith service took place 12 days after terrorists flew passenger planes into both towers of the World Trade Center, leaving more than 6,500 people missing or dead. Politicians, entertainers and more than two dozen leaders and representatives from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faiths offered words for the fallen and their families, and virtually all delivered a proud, defiant message of unity to the attackers.

"Our skyline will rise again," Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said to cheers. "To those who say the city will never be the same, I say you are right. It will be better."

Giuliani was joined on stage by former President Bill Clinton, New York's U.S. senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, Gov. George E. Pataki and by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, who led the ceremonies. The archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, gave the first of two invocations.

"Strengthen our injured, console our families, from whom so many have been taken so brutally," Egan said in his prayer. "We need courage to deal with our pain."

Many in the crowd wept off and on through an afternoon of emotional highs and lows, from the singing of the national anthem by three New York City police officers to Bette Midler's performance of "Wind Beneath My Wings" to the steady drumbeat of tributes for the lost. Some songs and prayers were greeted with cheers and chants of "USA," while others met instead with a sad, reverent silence.

At one point, the crowd joined hands and sang along quietly as the Boys Choir of Harlem and the Girls Choir of Harlem performed "We Shall Overcome." Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson, 33, who lost a classmate from Princeton University at the trade center, held hands with the Sikh man standing next to him, Prabhjit Singh, 21, who also had lost a friend. Singh in turn joined hands with Omar Carpio, a Peruvian still hoping to find his youngest brother, Ivhan Carpio, 24, a cook who worked at the Windows on the World restaurant.

Together, both subtly and overtly, the speakers conveyed a message of religious and ethnic tolerance, and the crowd responded with applause, especially for the Muslim chaplain of the New York Police Department, Imam Izak-El M. Pasha.

"We Muslim-Americans stand today with a heavy weight on our shoulders, that those who would dare do such dastardly acts, claim our faith," Pasha said.

"We condemn them and their acts, their cowardly acts, and we stand with our country against all who would come against it," he continued, to a thunderous roar from the flag-waving crowd. "We are Muslims, but we are Americans."

Turnout for the prayer service was far lower than the 55,000 expected, which some in attendance said was probably because of the difficulty in obtaining the free tickets, which for a long time were available at only a few locations in the city. The service also was shown on a number of television stations in New York, on cable news stations, and on giant television screens in minor-league baseball stadiums in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Newark, N.J.

Some of the relatives of the missing who came to Yankee Stadium said they still held out a little hope that a few among the missing might be found alive.

Some brought the fliers they made in the first days after the attack, showing pictures and descriptions of their loved ones, but now the fliers served more as memorials.

"We want to find closure a little bit," said Raymond L. Rodriguez, 42, whose brother Angel Perez, worked for the trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald. "We've got to get on with our lives. ... We have to thank the Lord that we're still alive and bless those that are gone now."

Omar Carpio, who hasn't given up hope for his brother, arrived with a flier and a T-shirt showing his brother's image on the front, with two telephone numbers to call on the back should anyone find Ivhan. His parents wore the same T-shirts. Sept. 11 was Ivhan's birthday.

Near the end of the ceremony, as Latin singer Marc Anthony sang "America the Beautiful," Carpio leaned forward to his mother in the seat in front of him, resting his head against hers, holding her hand.

"It was a spiritual help," Carpio said of the stadium ceremony. He said he is interested in following his younger brother's path to America. "I feel confident in the unity of this country."

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