BOSTON — On a sunny spring day, when friends and family should have been celebrating Patriots Day by watching friends and loved ones complete the annual Boston Marathon, instead, they were all thrown into a war zone.
At approximately 2:50pm local time, two bombs exploded less than 20 seconds apart near the finish line on Boylston Street. Spectators and participants of the 117th marathon alike were caught in the confusion.
At last report, the explosions killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and sent scores of people to city hospitals with shrapnel wounds that necessitated the amputation of limbs.
“It was a large and disturbing scene,” said Boston District Attorney Dan Conley at a news conference Monday night.
Soon after the explosions were announced, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, was returning from a trip to the Holy Land. He urged people to turn to prayer.
“In the midst of the darkness of this tragedy, we turn to the light of Jesus Christ, the light that was evident in the lives of people who immediately turned to help those in need today. We stand in solidarity with our ecumenical and interfaith colleagues in the commitment to witness the greater power of good in our society and to work together for healing,” said Cardinal O’Malley in a statement.
Indeed, local Catholics turned to prayer and looked to offer solace to those shell-shocked by the incident.
Praying the Rosary
Tim McGuirk, 19, of Brighton, Mass., was part of a street team attempting to give away posters for a local radio station during the marathon. He estimated that he was 200 yards away from the blasts. Initially, McGuirk thought it was a musket shot by a costumed Revolutionary War re-enactor he had seen earlier at a Boston Red Sox game.
But when he heard the second blast and saw fire and smoke, he realized something was amiss. At first, the word making its way down the street suggested it was a natural-gas explosion, then an explosion at an underground subway station and then a bomb set off at the station.
McGuirk said he felt movement on the ground where he was standing. He said he had a moment of anxiety thinking about all the people near the finish line, including guests of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy. In fact, the 26th and final mile marker of the marathon course was dedicated to the 26 people who died last December at the hands of Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook School.
“There was just a lot going through my mind, and I was really overwhelmed,” said McGuirk, who said that, although he didn’t see any of the physical injuries, “I saw a lot of the not-so-visible injuries; I saw a lot of emotional trauma.”
Right after the blast, the Boston University student called his mother to tell her that he was all right; but, later, he was unable to return text messages from friends, as cellphone service was suspended to prevent possible explosive devices from being detonated.
McGuirk and his colleagues walked away from the scene outside an arena at BU, where they were picked up by their employer. On the way there, McGuirk pulled out his rosary to pray for the victims and was joined by a co-worker who thought she might not know the prayers, but wanted to join anyway.
He said he was able to “pray for those people in a very particular way, that God might offer them some kind of comfort, whether they recognize it is his comfort or not — just to be there for those people. I did recognize the hurt in them,” he told the Register.
He later attended a Mass at the Boston University Catholic Center with about 30 others.
Doctor and Priest Respond
Dr. Tommy Heyne, 29, is a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in internal medicine and pediatrics. During the marathon, he was working at a clinic in Revere, a working-class town north of Boston, when he heard about the bombs. Through a series of hospital messaging, he reported to MGH to see if he could help.
He said there was much security outside the hospital, including “guys with bullet-proof vests and machine guns.”
He described a subdued tone at the hospital with the tragedy, but said that things were running very well and efficiently.
It turns out that the hospital didn’t need his help this time.
But the unfolding of events gave Heyne some time to reflect on why “young, healthy, innocent victims are left limbless, are left incapacitated.”
“I kind of put my hand in Mary’s when she looked up at Jesus, when he says: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he said. “We’re in the hands of a loving God.”
Father John Wykes of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, who operate St. Francis Chapel in the Prudential Center on Boylston Street, heard sirens going to the scene, though he did not hear the blast. St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine is a church operated by the Oblates and is fairly close to the marathon route toward the finish line.
When he heard the sirens, Father Wykes grabbed his sacramental oils and was prepared to offer the anointing of the sick and possibly the last rites.
“My intention was to get as close as possible to the scene,” said the Detroit native.
However, police turned him and others away. Instead, Father Wykes and other priests offered logistical help to spectators disorientated by the incident. Later, they also invited a visiting firefighter to dinner; he was one part of the large crew of first responders and needed a place to talk. He had seen a lot of blood and severed, shattered limbs from victims.
“We sat down with him at table and broke bread with him and talked about the day,” said Father Wykes, who added that he and his fellow Oblates were glad to give this service. Father Wykes plans to offer a special Mass today geared for times of “war and civil disturbances.”
“So I think our comfort in these days is the cross of Christ, which is a cross that Our Lord embraces with love,” said Father Wykes, adding that his love is for “each and every one of us."
Power of the Resurrection
Mother Olga Yaqob of the Sacred Heart is originally from Iraq and has experienced living through four wars. She is the foundress of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, which were established in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2011. As a teenager, she attended to dismembered bodies from the Iraq and Iran War and tried to secure their identification.
Though she was not near the bomb scene on Monday, her community was holding vigil for the victims and their families that evening.
“We really need a lot of grace to be able to overcome the darkness of hatred,” said Mother Olga. “We just celebrated the power of the Resurrection. We know that there is no sin too big for the cross — we’ve been redeemed by his blood; we’ve been covered by his mercy, and we have to remember that we have to turn to the power of the Resurrection."
She added, “[The only way] we can overcome such evil, such darkness, is by turning to the light of the Resurrection.”
Register correspondent Justin Bell writes from Boston.