New York With the smoldering gray rubble of the World Trade Center a sorrowful backdrop, the families of people killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack gathered Sunday for a memorial service of prayer and song.
Thousands of mourners, some holding photographs of their loved ones, rose from their plastic chairs as Police Officer Daniel Rodriguez opened the service with "The Star-Spangled Banner." Cardinal Edward Egan delivered the invocation, standing at a podium draped in black.
"They were innocent and they were brutally, viciously, unjustly taken from us," said Egan, the leader of New York's Roman Catholic archdiocese. He called them "strong and dedicated citizens" who were "executives and office workers, managers and laborers."
"We are in mourning, Lord. We have hardly any tears left to shed," he said.
More than 4,000 people are still missing.
Many of the mourners wore the jackets and headgear of the police and fire units to which their loved ones belonged.
"We are neighbors, we are family members and we are friends and we hurt," said Imam Izak-El Mu'eed Pasha, the Police Department's Muslim chaplain. "Let us stand together and pray and not let our faiths be used in such a way. ... They cannot use our faiths and do these terrible things."
For only the second time in the seven weeks since the attack, the round-the-clock recovery and demolition work at the site was halted to allow for the memorial service. The first time was on Oct. 11 at 8:48 a.m. one month to the minute after the first hijacked plane struck the trade center's north tower when a moment of silence was observed.
Yellow, white and purple flowers ringed a stage erected in front of a jagged mountain of darkened wreckage. On either side of the stage were huge video screens with images of American flags and the words "God Bless America" and "Sept. 11, 2001."
Standing room only
City officials estimated the crowd at 9,200, far more than expected. Mourners filled the rows of chairs to capacity; some people were forced to stand.
The crisp autumn air was tinged with an acrid smell from the debris, a constant in lower Manhattan since the twin towers collapsed. Although water was sprayed on smoldering spots in the wreckage before the service, a smoky cloud hung over the crowd. The drone of generators providing power for the service temporarily replaced the omnipresent roar of heavy machinery.
Many of the mourners pressed masks to their faces to block out the smoke and the smell. They wiped away tears as tenor Andrea Bocelli sang "Ave Maria" and as other prayers were offered during the hour-long service.
"Since Sept. 11, we the United States of America, have become the reunited states of America," said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the Fire Department's Jewish chaplain. "Death will not conquer our love. We will hold on to the memory, we will hold on to this moment, and most importantly, we will hold on to one another."
Earlier, as the mourners were escorted to their seats, many said it was their first visit to the area known as "ground zero." And for many of them, the sight of the destruction caused their jaws to drop.
"There will never be any closure, but it helps knowing there are other people going through this," said Roseanna Stabile, whose husband, Michael, a 50-year-old currency broker, died in the towers' collapse.
'No coffin, no funeral'
Josh Vicente, a teen-ager who lost his uncle, 30-year-old Tom Pecorelli, said that not having a body to bury had made the death particularly difficult. Pecorelli, a cameraman for Fox Sports, was a passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the north tower.
"We didn't see him again," Vicente said. "There was no coffin, no funeral. It still seems like he'll call again."
After the ceremony, some relatives climbed to the stage to get a closer look at the devastated trade center. They handed bouquets and wreaths to state troopers standing guard, asking them to place the flowers near ground zero.
"For a large number of families, the idea of being at the site was very important," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said earlier. "It was important to them to pray, and to feel a connection to the people they lost."
Other officials attending the service included governors George Pataki of New York and Donald DiFrancesco of New Jersey, and Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
A chain-link fence ringing the site was hung with green mesh to shield the families from the throngs of bystanders gathered nearby.
Later, families were given wooden urns by the city containing soil from ground zero.