While throngs of people packed the pews of Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross for Thursday morning’s interfaith service, thousands more crowded around televisions, radios, and computer screens across the city to listen to clergy, the mayor, the governor, and the president offer comfort to a hurting city.
In the South End, where police and Secret Service cordoned off the blocks surrounding the cathedral on Washington Street, much of the neighborhood tuned in to the proceedings.
Morning customers at nearby Stella’s Café watched the opening address from the Rev. Liz Walker on a small television hanging behind the counter, surrounded by reporters who could not get into the service.
Dozens of people continued to show up at the cathedral, although the church and the high school across the street where the service was being broadcast to an overflow audience had both reached capacity. Many said it was their duty to come, even if it meant standing in the street.
“I wanted to show the people who were hurt that we love them,” said Saran Fofana, a 5-year-old from Dorchester, who arrived after tickets to the service were gone and stood outside the police barrier with her mother.
The shy girl held a homemade sign she had crafted in pen and marker that read: “We Love Boston! Thank you B.P.D.”
The president’s words could be heard softly in the distance, emanating from dozens of Boston police cruisers where small groups of officers listened to the service on their car radios.
On Newbury Street at Joe’s American Bar & Grill, most, if not all, of the crowd had gathered to watch the broadcast. Midway through the service, forks clattered, ice rattled in drinks, and the sound on the television over the bar competed with conversations and the construction noise coming from the wall of open windows facing Newbury Street.
But when the president started to speak, everyone, everything seemed to stop.
“On Monday morning, the sun rose over Boston,” President Obama began, as Beth Sweet, 65, a recently retired paralegal from Dorchester, leaned over the bar, tight-lipped, fingers folded as if in prayer. Next to her, a young woman crossed her arms, unblinking, ignoring her mimosa.
When Obama spoke of young Martin Richard – “our hearts are broken for 8-year-old Martin, with his big smile and bright eyes” – the bartender did not try to hide her tears.
Across from her, a crowd had gathered on the sidewalk, first five, then 20, and now 40 in all, people in suits and jeans and workout clothes, two blocks from where Monday’s bombings occurred.
“That’s right!” someone cried, when the president said Boston defined American values and “whoever committed this heinous act . . . picked the wrong city.”
When he said the world next year will “return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder,” people applauded. When he ended in prayer, they were silent and then applauded again.
At the end of the bar, Sweet was alone, except that she was not. “It was like I was with my family,” she said. “It was solemn. Painful. But positive. ‘This is our Boston. Don’t mess with us’ – they’re right.”
Sweet, a Miami Beach native, was living in California, when something drew her away from those warmer climes and toward Boston, her mother’s hometown. She moved here in 2000. It was “the architecture and the brick and the history,” she recalled, as conversations resumed, waiters brought plates, patrons reached for the check. “Like a little piece of Europe.”
But that’s not why she stayed.
“It was the people,’’ Sweet said.
At City Hall, more than 100 people gathered on the steps inside to watch the vigil on television screens brought in for the broadcast. Some sat with hands clasped, as if in prayer; others wiped away tears as Obama spoke of lives lost.
They, too, broke into applause when he called on Bostonians to run again and promised justice.
As Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley delivered the final blessing, Maureen Sandino, 42, stood and raised her palms towards the ceiling.
“I did not want to miss this moment,” she said. “I could watch it later on the news, but it’s different when you watch it live. When he was giving the blessing, I got up, because I felt that even though we are not in the actual Holy Cross, we were being blessed.”
Sandino, who lives in the Back Bay, said that every year, she gets up at 4 a.m. on Marathon mornings to get a seat near Lord & Taylor. She had ducked into a nearby supermarket when the bombs went off, she said, and felt their vibration.
Sandino was born in Costa Rica, but grew up in Boston. After Monday’s bombings, she said, she is even more determined to stake out her spot at the Marathon next year.
“I’m proud of being a Bostonian,” she said. “It’s the best thing that happened in my life.”