Thousands gather at Yankee Stadium for World Trade Center prayer service
NEW YORK (AP) – Representatives of New York’s broad spectrum of faiths took the field of Yankee Stadium on Sunday for a flag-draped gathering of prayer for the victims of terrorism. ”We need faith, wisdom and strength of soul,” said New York’s Roman Catholic archbishop.
The service – billed as ”A Prayer for America” – mixed solemn words with patriotic and inspirational songs, culminating in Lee Greenwood’s rendition of ”God Bless the USA.” The crowd waved their flags, sang along and shouted ”USA! USA” at its close.
Still, said the Rev. David Benke, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Atlantic District, it was a day when ”the field of dreams turned into God’s house of prayer.”
One after another, members of the clergy – Jews, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, Sikhs, Greek Orthodox – stepped up to offer prayers.
”Our skyline will rise again,” pledged Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the hero of the moment who was cheered loudly when he was introduced by Oprah Winfrey, who moderated with actor James Earl Jones.
”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,” the mayor said.
When Bette Midler sang ”Wind Beneath My Wings” – and the line, ”Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” – many in a crowd that filled half the stadium wept openly, clutching American flags and sobbing into each others’ arms. Opera star Placido Domingo, accompanied by piano and harp, received a standing ovation for a stirring version of ”Ave Maria.”
The crowd also rose to its feet when Imam Izak-El M. Pasha pleaded, ”Do not allow the ignorance of people to have you attack your good neighbors. We are Muslims, but we are Americans.”
”We Muslims, Americans, stand today with a heavy weight on our shoulder that those who would dare do such dastardly acts claim our faith,” he said. ”They are no believers in God at all.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, a fire chaplain, said, ”When we were children we all wanted to be a fireman or a policeman. Today, as adults we can again answer we want to be like them. We know who we are. They showed us who we can be.”
Cardinal Edward Egan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, asked God to care for the World Trade Center dead and heal the injured.
”We need courage to deal with our pain,” he said. ”We need justice to deal with the evildoers who have harmed us so fiercely. We need faith, wisdom and strength of soul.”
Giuliani was careful to call it a prayer service rather than a memorial service, insisting that hope was not lost for some of the people missing in the wreckage of the trade center. Giuliani told reporters after the service that the number of missing has risen by more than 100 – to 6,453 – after more checking of lists of those unaccounted for.
No survivors have been pulled from the ruins since the day after the Sept. 11 disaster.
Security was heavy at the ballpark in New York’s Bronx borough. City officials had printed some 55,000 tickets, which were given out at limited locations. When it became apparent that so many seats were unfilled, the general public was invited in an hour before the service.
Some attendees said concerns about ticket availability may have kept others away. ”I don’t think people knew where to get tickets,” said Ita Horan, a college administrator from Cresskill, N.J. ”They thought they couldn’t get any.”
The American Red Cross handed out tissue packets. Many people held up signs with photographs of the missing.
Political leaders, including former President Clinton and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, were on hand.
Representatives from a range of religions were evident in the crowd. A group of about 20 men in orange, red, white, blue and pink turbans carried a sign declaring that Sikhs condemn terrorism.
Mourners arriving at Yankee Stadium had to run a gauntlet of police officers and state troopers checking tickets. No bags, backpacks or coolers were allowed. Police officers were stationed in the stadium’s light stanchions.
Small American flags and roses were distributed. The stadium was bedecked with flowers and red-white-and-blue bunting. The flags that had stood at half-staff since Sept. 11 were returned to the tops of their poles.
Mourners got cut-rate prices at the Yankee Stadium concession stands: Hot dogs normally selling for $3.75 at Yankee games cost $1. No beer was available.
Retired nurse’s assistant Gloria Rice wore a stars-and-stripes bandanna on her head and an American flag on her T-shirt.
”I’m here because I felt it my duty as an American citizen to support the police, the fire workers and so many others trying to help,” she said.
Meanwhile, the grim work of searching through the trade center wreckage continued without interruption in lower Manhattan, and the business of trying to return to a semblance of normal went on throughout the city.
The sidewalks of midtown Manhattan were crowded with tourists and visitors on a warm, sunny day.
Mayoral candidates stepped up their public schedules Sunday to try to focus distracted voters’ attention on Tuesday’s rescheduled primary election. Balloting was put off by the attack Sept. 11, the original Primary Day.
The candidates are lavishing praise on Giuliani’s handling of the trade center disaster. But they’re also trying to convince voters they have the credentials to be his successor in this time of crisis in the city.
Term limits prevent Giuliani from serving a third term.
”No person is irreplaceable,” said Public Advocate Mark Green, one of the Democratic candidates. ”We are a nation of laws, not men. … We are bigger than any public official.”
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