BOSTON -- President Barack Obama on Thursday celebrated this city’s resilience in the face of a bomb attack that upended the legendary Boston Marathon and rattled much of the country, pledging that runners will return to the streets of an unbowed city next year.
“We may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we’ll pick ourselves up,” Obama said at the close of an interfaith service aimed at bringing some healing to a city still reeling from the explosions Monday that tore apart runners and spectators at the finish line less than a mile from where he spoke. Three people were killed, nearly 200 wounded. “We’ll keep going,” he said. “We will finish the race.”
His remarks at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross came in a week of jarring news that included the assault in Boston, the threat of poisonous mail sent to Congress and the White House, and a devastating fertilizer-plant explosion in Texas.
Obama focused on Boston, calling it the country’s “beloved city.” He noted that he’d gone to school “across the river” -- at Harvard Law School -- and that he and first lady Michelle Obama, who also attended Harvard, had walked its streets.
“Boston may be your hometown, but we claim it, too,” Obama said. “It’s one of America’s iconic cities.”
He called for a return to life, likening the city to marathon runners such as Bill Iffrig, the 78-year-old man who was knocked off his feet by the blast but kept running and Dick Hoyt, who pushed his son, Rick, who has disabilities, in a custom-made wheelchair as the two participated in their 31st Boston Marathon.
“This time next year, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever, and to cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon,” Obama said to a standing ovation.
He promised the perpetrators of the attack, whom he called “small, stunted individuals who would destroy instead of build,” that they’d be held accountable.
“Yes, we will find you, and yes, you will face justice,” the president said. “But more than that, our fidelity to our way of life – to our free and open society – will only grow stronger.”
Obama offered personal tributes to the three people who died in the explosions, and he and Michelle Obama met before the service with the family of one of them, Krystle Campbell, 29, a Medford, Mass., native.
He and the first lady later visited two of the Boston hospitals that are treating the injured, meeting with the wounded, their families and some of the nurses and physicians who worked around the clock to care for them.
The president also shook hands and offered hugs to first responders and marathon volunteers who crowded into Cathedral High School near the prayer service. Many had run toward the explosion to help the wounded, and Obama said at the service that they’d shown “that in face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good.”
Sally Koen, 72, who’d volunteered at her 27th marathon Monday, was at the finish line when the explosions went off, and she said she’d been unable to shake the anguish. “I couldn’t make it go away,” the Beverly resident said. “We needed this closure. We needed the hope.”
Some of the loudest applause at the cathedral was for Boston’s longtime mayor, Thomas Menino, who stood at the pulpit after lifting himself from the wheelchair he’s used since he broke his leg in a fall last week.
“I have never loved (Boston), its people, more than I do today,” said Menino, who recently announced plans to retire. He saluted those who “felt the blast and still raced to the smoke,” runners and spectators who took the shirts off their backs to fashion tourniquets for the wounded, residents who “opened their doors and hearts to the weary and the scared” and first responders who “calmed a city in crisis.”
He eulogized the three who’d died, including 8-year-old Martin Richard, a “little boy with a big heart.”
And he thanked the world for its “prayers and wishes,” singling out Boston’s legendary baseball nemesis, the New York Yankees, who played the Red Sox anthem “Sweet Caroline” Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in solidarity with Boston.
“And yes, we even love New York City more,” Menino said to chuckles from the audience. “ ‘Sweet Caroline’ playing at Yankee Stadium, our city flag flying in lower Manhattan.”
Several attendees at the service wore the familiar blue and yellow Boston Marathon jackets or had pinned blue and yellow ribbons to their shirts.
Many, fittingly, wore running shoes.
Clergy from across the city offered prayers to the city and tributes to the runners: “Bless this brokenhearted city as she finds her balance, dusts herself off and tilts her head back to the sky,” said the Rev. Liz Walker, pastor at Roxbury Presbyterian Church.
Obama reached out to another community in crisis during his flight to Boston, calling Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry "to tell him that his prayers are with the people" of Texas, according to Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
Obama flew to Boston with a contingent of Massachusetts politicians, including Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Mo Cowan and Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. They joined at the service with Obama’s 2012 Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who sat with his son Tagg.