BOSTON — When Tim McGuirk heard the first bomb explode near the finish line of the 117th annual Boston Marathon April 15, he thought it was a costumed Revolutionary War re-enactor. He was wrong.
The festive Patriots Day atmosphere was inextricably shattered at 2:50pm. Then another bomb exploded seconds later on Boylston Street, just a few hundred feet from the first.
When McGuirk heard the second blast and saw fire and smoke, he realized something was amiss. Terrorists had detonated pressure cooker bombs, unleashing nails and ball bearings into the crowd of people who lined the home stretch of the race. Three people would die, and nearly 300 more would be injured, many losing limbs.
"There was just a lot going through my mind, and I was really overwhelmed," said the Boston University sophomore, 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."
McGuirk, 19, estimated he was 200 yards away from the detonation area. After calling his mother to notify her he was unhurt, he walked away from the area, praying a Rosary with a friend who didn’t remember all the prayers but wanted to join him.
On a sunny spring day, when friends and family should have been celebrating by watching friends and loved ones complete the grueling 26.2-mile race, many were thrown into a war zone.
On behalf of Pope Francis, the Holy See published a statement April 16 for Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, about the horrific tragedy at the marathon.
"At this time of mourning, the Holy Father prays that all Bostonians will be united in a resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good (Romans 12:21), working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations yet to come," Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone stated, assuring all in the city of Pope Francis’ sympathy and prayers.
The attacks resulted in Boston and nearby Cambridge and Watertown, Mass., being put into a virtual lockdown by police as they searched for the suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who were born in the heavily Muslim Chechen region of Russia. Dzhokhar became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 11, 2012.
In a dramatic shootout with police April 18, Tamerlan, 26, died; and Dzhokhar, 19, escaped. He was later apprehended, bleeding and semi-conscious, in a dry-docked boat in a Watertown back yard.
"Everyone has been profoundly affected by this wanton violence and destruction inflicted upon our community by two young men unknown to all of us," said Cardinal O’Malley at a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross April 21.
There, a shrine was erected with candles and pictures for each of the victims who died: Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was shot in his police cruiser late in the evening on April 18. Richard, Campbell and Collier were Catholic.
Eight-year-old Martin, who had recently made his first Communion, has left the world with a poignant message. News channels and social media have shared a photograph of the little boy holding a sign with his prayer: "No more hurting people. Peace."
Faith on the Move
On the day of the marathon, Father John Wykes, an Oblate of the Virgin Mary, was at St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine, a church operated by the religious congregation fairly close to the marathon route’s finish line. He heard sirens going to the scene, though he did not hear the blasts.
The priest grabbed his sacramental oils and was prepared to offer the anointing of the sick and possibly the last rites.
However, police turned him and others away. Instead, Father Wykes and other priests offered logistical help to spectators disorientated by the incident. They also invited a visiting firefighter to dinner; he was one part of the large crew of first responders, and he needed to talk. He had seen a lot of blood and the severed, shattered limbs of the victims.
Dr. Tommy Heyne, 29, an internal medicine and pediatrics resident at Massachusetts General Hospital checked in with the hospital to see if he could be of assistance. He described a subdued tone there, but said that things were running very well.
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."
Mother Olga of the Sacred Heart was not near the bomb scene on race day, but she has witnessed plenty of carnage after battles — during four wars in her native Iraq and that region. Her community, the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, held a 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."
On April 18, civic and religious leaders joined everyday citizens for prayer, remembrance, hymns and reassurance at an interfaith service, "Healing Our City," at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
It drew attendees from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities, along with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Cardinal O’Malley, who served as host, also spoke at the event.
"We do not want to risk losing the legacy of those hurt in this, who were willing to lay down their lives in this for the common good," said the cardinal.
"We must overcome the culture of death by promoting a culture of life, of profound respect for each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God. We must cultivate a desire to give our lives for the service of others," he said.
Like others in his Watertown community, Father Joe Curran received a call to his landline phone on the Friday morning after the attack ordering him to stay inside. In residence at the rectory of Sacred Heart parish, he subsequently heard the intense firefight between the Tsarnaev brothers and Boston police.
The pastor and his parish staffer, Sister Mary Clare Kirkpatrick, had another situation requiring attention. There was a 10am funeral scheduled; the niece of the deceased told them that her house had taken five or six bullets during the fatal firefight with the suspects.
They had to wait until the younger Tsarnaev was caught to reschedule a funeral for Saturday.
"I never thought I would live to see armored troop carriers unloading soldiers with machine guns and going through the yards here and up to people’s houses," said Father Curran, who aided law enforcement primarily by providing bathroom facilities at the rectory.
For a good portion of Friday, many Boston-area residents were ordered to stay indoors, and the casual use of the word "lockdown" took on weighted significance.
Being homebound watching the drama, Facebook postings of residents flourished in the region, offering commentary, prayers, status check-ins of personal safety, criticism of media coverage, humor — such as a recipe for a "Boston Lockdown Brownie" — and even direct appeals to "Suspect 2" to give himself up once he was surrounded in the back-yard boat in Watertown.
"Dzhokhar, I just finished another Divine Mercy Chaplet for you, that the Lord will reach into your heart and convert you and that you will turn yourself in immediately to the authorities. Surely you realize by now that your way of life has gone nowhere. Turn yourself in," posted Father Wykes.
And then, 12 minutes later, he wrote: "IN CUSTODY!!!"
Relief and Remembrance
After Tsarnaev’s capture, there was a palpable relief felt around the city, and celebrations ensued.
The sixth annual Eucharistic Congress proceeded in Boston’s North End April 20, as the previous day’s events had been canceled. Sponsored by the Boston Archdiocese and geared for and organized by volunteer university students and young adults, the congress featured a candlelit Eucharistic procession.
The group winded through the streets of the heavily visited Italian neighborhood of Boston, at times pausing for adoration at makeshift altars, with attendees kneeling.
This year, the tone was more subdued, but onlookers watched quietly as the real presence of Jesus Christ passed by, and they took pictures of the stream of participants.
On Sunday, April 21, at the special Mass, Cardinal O’Malley ended his homily with a powerful message:
Though the culture of death "looms large," he said, "our Good Shepherd rose from the grave on Easter" and has returned.
Said Cardinal O’Malley, "His light can expel the darkness and illuminate for us the path that leads to life, to a civilization of solidarity and love. I hope that the events of this past week have taught us all how high the stakes are. We must build a civilization of love or there will be no civilization at all."
Justin Bell lives and writes
from the Boston area.