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Thousands turn out for Marathon interfaith memorial service

They had been close to the epicenter — blocks or steps away from the two explosions that rocked the Back Bay on Monday. They heard the booms, or felt the rumble of the ground, or smelled the acrid air along Boylston Street.

And on Thursday, they wanted to be close again — this time to the healing.

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Thousands came to the South End to attend a memorial service at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, commemorating those killed and grievously wounded in the finish line explosion at the Boston Marathon. A surprising number shared this in common: They had been at the spot where tragedy struck Monday and now found themselves in a place of unity. They hoped to hear their mayor, their governor, and their president provide words of solace.

But for many of those who had found themselves dangerously close when Monday’s events unfolded, just being there Thursday on Washington Street, once again at the center of a big event, proved sufficient. The nearness, they said, was comforting.

“Just to feel like we’re here and we’re present is enough,” said Anthe Kelley, who lives in Jamaica Plain, as sherolled a stroller back and forth in the line for entrance.

Kelley woke up Monday morning with one goal in mind: to take her three children, 5 months old and 7 and 8 years old, to the Marathon. And not just the race — the finish line.

“I told them, ‘It’s like a big party in Boston,’ ” Kelley said.

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They had been late heading out the door to see the race. Minutes after exiting Back Bay Station, they saw runners, crying, headed toward them on Clarendon Street. A man passed and yelled to no one in particular, “A bomb went off.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

Thursday, Kelley came to the cathedral in a show of support for victims of the bombings and their families. Scanning the line that stretched for blocks, Kelley realized they might not get in. That didn’t really matter.

“Being in this space,” Kelley said, “it kind of brings things to completion for us.”

Ashley Eareckson, a 22-year-old student at Northeastern University, was working at the Apple Store on Boylston Street on Monday. When the bombs exploded, she and other employees waved spectators inside into the basement for safety, then hustled everyone out into the alley.

Thursday, she said, she was encouraged by the hundreds still standing in line when the cathedral and an adjacent overflow auditorium filled up, even though that meant that she would not be able to attend the service, which began at 11 a.m.

“The fact that so many people showed up for it is nice in itself,” Eareckson said.

Many had waited in line since 4 or 5 a.m. to get a ticket. They huddled tightly together, a few wrapped in the silver blankets awarded to runners who finished the Marathon, while others clutched signs, American flags, and worn leather Bibles.

Caitlin Purinton, 29, arrived just after 7 a.m. Three hours later, the woman, studying to become an Army chaplain, was standing at the front of the line, awaiting a new batch of tickets.

She was there with fellow theology students. “It was important for us to come out and show this support for the community we live in,” Purington said. “An interfaith service is a show of solidarity.”

Hundreds of those at the front of the line were given blue tickets, meaning they would indeed make it into the service. Once those were gone, organizers hastily distributed a second set of tickets, these yellow, to give to hundreds more so they could watch a video stream of the service in Cathedral High School.

By 10:35 a.m., the yellow tickets were gone, too, an announcement that shattered the spirits of some of the hundreds who remained in line.

Moments later, organizers returned to the back of the line. Some of those at the front wanted to give up their tickets. They did not want to enter until those who had run in the Marathon were let in first.

People wearing blue and yellow Marathon jackets were taken from the line and led to the cathedral’s doors.

Ed Ariel, who lives in Medfield, took his 9-year-old son to the police barricade blocking those without tickets from the stretch of Washington Street in front of the cathedral. They didn’t have a hope of getting inside or hearing the speeches delivered by religious leaders and politicians. Still, they came.

On Monday, Ariel had taken his 7-year-old daughter to the 26-mile marker. After watching the parade of triumphant runners for awhile, Ariel posed this question to his daughter: walk to the finish line, or get some ice cream? After some thought, the 7-year-old chose ice cream. So they worked their way west on Boylston Street, away from the 26-mile marker, away from the bombs.

On Thursday, Ariel said, he felt his family had a connection to the race, and to the emotions being shared inside the cathedral.

“We felt like we wanted to be a part of it,” Ariel said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

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