Those who spoke were New Yorkers ranging from Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan to the chaplains who minister daily to police and firefighters coping with the Sept. 11 terror attacks. "We Muslims, Americans, stand today with a heavy weight on our shoulder that those who would dare do such dastardly acts claim our faith,'' said Imam Izak-el M. Pasha, a Muslim police chaplain, enunciating a religious and patriotic theme that permeated the service.
The carefully balanced religious roster also included leaders of local Hindu and Sikh temples, black and white Protestant pastors, Armenian and Greek Orthodox archbishops, and male and female Jewish rabbis. The master of ceremonies was television's Oprah Winfrey, who added a New Age touch, saying, ``When you lose a loved one you gain an angel whose name you know.'' On Sept. 11, she said, ''6,000 angels were added to the spiritual roster.''
Among the emotional high points was a sermon by the Rev. Calvin Butts from New York's historic Abyssinian Baptist Church. ``We are not afraid today,'' he said. ``Get back on the airplanes. Get back to work. Rebuild America. We are not afraid today. Together we will get through it because we are the United States of America.''
Priscilla Schoch, a Red Cross volunteer from Westminster, California, said, ``each piece of my heart came together as each person spoke.'' In between the prayers and inspirational songs, there were patriotic sing-a-longs like ``God Bless America'' and ``America the Beautiful.''
``It was a beautiful service,'' Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said afterward. He dismissed questions about possibly being disappointed at the size of the crowd. No attendance figure was provided, but the crowd only half-filled Yankee Stadium.
The city had printed 55,000 tickets and made them available on a limited basis because organizers said they chiefly wanted the service to be attended by relatives of those killed or injured in the twin tower attacks and rescue workers. About an hour before the event began, the general public was invited to attend when it became apparent there would be plenty of seats available.
Many cried when Bette Midler sang the line, ``Did you ever know that you're my hero?'' from ``Wind Beneath My Wings.'' Most waved the American flags they received on the way into the stadium during Lee Greenwood's rousing ``God Bless the USA'' and chanted ``USA! USA!'' afterward. Many also were hushed as they listened to opera singer Placido Domingo sing ``Ave Maria.'' "I got a feeling of how we all have got capacity to share, to love, to feel sympathy. I'm just hoping it will continue,'' said Betty Robinson, a 50-year-old paralegal.