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Prayer service to be a ‘defiance’ of terror

President Obama will speak at an interfaith prayer service to honor victims of the Boston Marathon bombings Thursday morning at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Titled “Healing Our City,” the service begins at 11 a.m. at the cathedral, on Washington Street in Boston’s South End. The renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma will perform, and clergy from different faiths will offer readings, prayers, and reflections.

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“A violent and cruel intrusion like the bomb blast sends people scattering, and it’s terrorizing,” said the Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of Old South Church, who will speak at the service. “The coming together is creating a space of unity and community in defiance of that kind of cruelty and violence.”

Four former governors will attend, Governor Deval Patrick said: Mitt Romney, William F. Weld, Michael S. Dukakis, and Jane M. Swift.

Patrick said he was not certain of the president’s itinerary in Boston.

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“I know that both he and Mrs. Obama have an interest in visiting victims and/or with hospital staff,” he said. “I think they’re also very cautious of the disruption” caused by a White House visit.

The cathedral can hold some 2,000 people; about half of the seats will be reserved for invited guests, organizers said, including victims’ families, first responders, medical personnel, government officials, and volunteers from the Boston Athletic Association, which operates the Marathon.

The other half will be available for members of the public, who will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Doors to the cathedral will open at 8 a.m.; organizers said those attending should use the entrance at Washington Street and Monsignor Reynolds Way.

The gymnasium of Cathedral High School will offer additional space for public seating.

A joint news release from the offices of the governor and mayor on Wednesday said that people should be prepared for “airport-like security” and expect lines and delays.

Bags, sharp objects, liquids, and signs are prohibited.

Parking is limited, so organizers strongly advise using public transportation.

The Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, a former WBZ-TV news anchor, will help lead the service, which will feature scripture readings, prayer, music by the Boston Children’s Chorus, and reflections from clergy.

Walker, who led the prayer service on the morning of Patrick’s second inauguration, said she would open the service with a question she said was on many people’s minds.

“When these kinds of tragedies happen, we always ask, ‘Where is God?’ and ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ ” she said. “I don’t have an answer, but I do know God is in this coming together as a community.”

Metropolitan Methodios, the hierarch of the Greek Orthodox church in Boston, will offer a welcome; the Rev. Roberto Miranda of Congregacion Leon de Juda in Roxbury and Nasser S. Weddady, chair of the New England Interfaith Council, will offer reflections. Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel in Brookline and the Rev. John Borders III of Morningstar Baptist Church in Mattapan will read from scripture.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Patrick will also speak.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, will offer a reflection and the closing blessing.

Taylor will speak, in part, about what she experienced Monday. Old South is steps from where the blasts occurred, and although the church was not damaged, it has been closed since Monday, pending the conclusion of the crime scene investigation.

“Old South Church in Boston is a crime scene,” Taylor said in a brief phone interview Wednesday night. “It’s a very surreal thing to be a crime scene.”

The service is expected to be broadcast widely on television and radio. Speakers and TV monitors will be set up in the lobby of City Hall so that city employees can watch with their colleagues.

The fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, of Westboro, Kan., has said it will picket Thursday’s service, as well as the funerals of the bombing victims. Since Monday, the group has been celebrating the Marathon bombings as divine retribution for Massachusetts’ embrace of gay marriage.

First Church Somerville, a United Church of Christ congregation, announced plans to “offer our bodies and our prayers and our love as a living wall” between the Westboro group and those attending the service. First Church said it will not hold signs or chant.

Marlin Collingwood, a spokesman for First Church, said, “When we act, we will do so with compassion, dignity, and nonviolence.”

Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Lisa Wangsness can be reached at
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