Updated Thursday, April 18, 12:44 pm
President Obama assumed an all-too-familiar role as "Healer-in-Chief" Thursday as he and the first lady were in Boston for an interfaith service in honor of those killed or wounded in Monday's attack.
Dual explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three people and wounded more than 170 others. As of Wednesday evening, 12 remained in critical condition.
"Your resolve is the greatest rebuke to whoever committed this heinous act," the president said to the crowd gathered at the Holy Cross cathedral in Boston Thursday. "If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from those values that make us who we are as Americans--well it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it."
President Obama's remarks echo his previous statements on the resilience of the American spirit in the face of evil--a theme he has emphasized in past services for the people of Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Fort Hood, Texas; and most recently, Newtown, Conn. Speaking after those mass shootings, the president painted emotional portraits of the dead and offered comfort to their families and communities.
This time, he had to respond not only to the lives that were lost but also to the kind of attack that ended them.
"This time next year on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run even harder and cheer even louder for the 118th Boston marathon," the president said from the Boston pulpit. "We will finish the race. Bet on it."
Thursday's interfaith service is an attempt to start healing the wounds of those in Boston and around the country who are grappling with the motiveless cruelty of the bombings.
Amid the stories of horror recounted by those along the marathon route on Monday are stories of generosity and selflessness, and a deep reliance on Boston's entrenched faith community. The city, founded by Pilgrims, has a vibrant population of Roman Catholics and other religious groups as well.
"We’re seeing an enormous outpouring of love and support for people regardless of their denomination, regardless of their station in life," Archdiocese of Boston Communications Secretary Terrence Donilon told msnbc.com Tuesday. "Our parishes in particular in the Catholic Church are really strong and step up when these things occur, regardless of where it happens, whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, tsunamis, and now unfortunately, in our own backyard."
Boston University's Catholic chaplain, the Rev. John McLaughlin, got as close to the scene as he could Monday, offering runners the use of his cell phone and walking them back to their hotels and cars.
McLaughlin told msnbc.com that the school's ministry had been holding vigils and services since Monday's bombing, with many students seeking one-on-one counseling. A graduate student from the University was identified as the third victim Tuesday evening.
"The loss of any student reverberates on a campus," McLaughlin told msnbc.com. "I’m sure it’ll bring a more somber position to the people here on campus because they know that one of their own is gone, sadly."
McLaughlin said that students at the university, who number roughly 30,000 between undergraduate and graduate programs, seemed "very nervous, very pensive" during the interfaith vigils.
"They don’t know really what to do or what to feel. There are a lot of kids [who are] very, very stressed out last night and today," McLaughlin told msnbc.com Tuesday. "Many of our students were around the area of the blast. They’re just very scared."
"Unfortunately as a society we’ve gotten very good at stepping forward during these tragic events," Donilon said. "Boston’s a very strong town. We have a very strong interfaith community here. We’re all working hand in hand together regardless of denomination. There are no political parties today, no 'us versus them.' It’s really us together."