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Back Bay churches mark sites of sorrow

Robert Yearwood carried a wooden cross as the Rev. Rainey G. Dankel led dozens of parishioners around the Back Bay. They stopped at the Marathon bombing and Beacon Street fire sites.

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

Robert Yearwood carried a wooden cross as the Rev. Rainey G. Dankel led dozens of parishioners around the Back Bay. They stopped at the Marathon bombing and Beacon Street fire sites.

Robert Yearwood of Dorchester held aloft a large, simple, wooden cross as he led a silent procession of 75 people through the Back Bay on a Good Friday observance that served a dual purpose.

From the Boylston Street sidewalk where the first bomb exploded at the Boston Marathon, to the Beacon Street building where two firefighters died last month, the gathering mingled a commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus with sorrow over the losses that have struck the neighborhood during the last year.

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“Heal our city and our nation of fears, hatreds, and divisions. Give comfort to all who experience loss and grief,” said the Rev. Patrick C. Ward, associate rector of Trinity Church, as the group began its slow walk from that historic church in Copley Square.

Modeled after the Stations of the Cross, a centuries-old observance of Jesus’ suffering, the congregations of Trinity Church, Old South Church, and the Church of the Covenant called this procession the Stations of the City.

“This is part of what we do — to lament the sadness and offer it to God,” said the Rev. Rainey G. Dankel, another associate rector at Trinity, as she walked at the head of the group along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

The gathering sang hymns, prayed, and spoke of the impact of loss as members made nine stops in a 90-minute observance.

Richard Webster, the 61-year-old music director at Trinity, recalled the shock of last year’s twin bombings, which occurred just after he had finished his 11th Boston Marathon and 26th overall.

‘This is part of what we do — to lament the sadness and offer it to God.’

Rev. Rainey G. Dankel, associate rector of Trinity Church 
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“I’ll never forget how loud it was,” Webster told the group, which had paused in front of the Marathon Sports store, where the first bomb was detonated. At first, Webster said, he thought the explosion was mechanical, but then he realized firsthand what had happened when a bloodied runner walked toward him.

“I can’t believe I just saw arms and legs lying in the street,” Webster recalled the runner saying. Then, in the seconds after celebration turned to horror, they began to cry.

But in the aftermath of tragedy, Webster saw strength and goodness. And although he recognizes the power of the post-bombing slogan of Boston Strong, Webster said he prefers a motto of “Boston Compassionate and Merciful.”

As dazed runners congregated in shock near the finish line, Webster said, race volunteers asked, “How can we help you? What can we do?” amid the chaos and confusion.

“I’ll never forget that compassion,” Webster said.

That sense of strengthened community empathy was repeated near the boarded-up building on Beacon Street where Boston Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. and firefighter Michael R. Kennedy died March 26 during a wind-whipped inferno.

“We all became a new, spontaneous community of silent helplessness,” said Peggie Thorp, who lives nearby, as she described watching firefighters battle the blaze. “It is no exaggeration to say Kennedy and Walsh died for all of us.”

The Rev. Don Wells of Old South Church, which is on Boylston Street near the first bombing site, acknowledged that the explosions and their aftermath had left a wave of sorrow — for the families of the four people killed, for more than 260 who were wounded, and for a city whose marquee event had been attacked.

But like the other speakers, Wells stressed the good that flourished afterward. “Out of the midst of hardship, we welcomed our neighbors in new and wonderful ways,” Wells said.

Old South Church closed for more than a week after the bombings, but now “the doors are open wide,” Wells said.

“God,” he told the huddled crowd, “is our refuge and our strength.”

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@
globe.com
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