The prayer offered by Father Ashley Harrington at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Sunday was not just for Bob and Betty Miller, two members of the Tenafly, N.J., parish who died when TWA Flight 800 plummeted into the sea.
It was a wish for "a world of peace," and the moment the Rev. Harrington said those words, Michele Kreisel began shaking. She bolted from her pew and left the church.
What rattled her, she said, was an overwhelming sense of futility in the face of so much pain and hurt. "I thought, "What a waste,'
" Kreisel, a close friend of the couple, said later as she collected herself in a nearby diner, a glass of iced tea quivering in her hand. "You pray for peace, and this is what happens."
Across the country and around the world Sunday, as people filed into tiny rural churches and grand urban cathedrals where the victims of Flight 800 were remembered, they confronted the same sorrow that Kreisel did, and they faced a similar struggle to divine some kind of meaning in the disaster: Why these good and decent people? Why now? With reassurances in heavy demand but short supply, they sought whatever solace they could find in songs and prayers, tentative whispers and forceful hugs.
Funerals for most of the victims were still to come, delayed by the grimly tedious task of retrieving and identifying the dead.
But various memorials _ official and unofficial, advertised and impromptu _ sent sobs echoing faintly through a Catholic school in Center Moriches, N.Y., one of the towns closest to the crash, and a Catholic church in Montoursville, Pa., one of the towns most profoundly diminished by it.
At an Episcopal cathedral in Paris, a placard outside announced that the 11 a.m. Mass would be held in memory of those on Flight 800.
Four different ecumenical ceremonies in this country were sponsored by TWA, which counted 53 employees and their relatives among the passengers on the plane.
One of these services played out in the unlikely setting of a maintenance bay, an enormous steel garage, at Kennedy International Airport, where an estimated 2,000 people _ friends and relatives of the dead and religious and political leaders _ listened to a choir sing Amazing Grace and fell into heavy silence as a list of all 230 people killed was read.
In the front row, a relative of Jill Ziemkiewicz, a flight attendant on the plane, cradled the perfectly pressed uniform that she had planned to use on her next flight.
"Now it will probably be used for her burial," said the Rev. Eugene Pappas of the Greek Archdiocese of New York, who attended the service.
The tributes Sunday were as extravagant as the release of 230 white balloons _ one for each victim _ at the end of a TWA-sponsored service in Los Angeles, and as modest as the interruption of a newborn's christening on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., so that the memories of Edwin and Ruth Brooks, longtime residents of the island, could be invoked.
In a chapel at Kennedy Airport, airport employees attending the regular 12:30 worship service wore white ribbons on the lapels of their dark blue uniforms. On the altar at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church in Montoursville, four red roses represented the four schoolchildren from that parish who had died along with 12 other youths from the town. A sign several feet away spelled out the children's names, along with a benediction: "Rest peacefully in God's arms."
The priest, the Rev. Stephen McGough, used his sermon in a morning Mass to tell parishioners that the sense of tragedy rending their community should not weaken their faith in God. "God never said he would take the danger away, or the terror," McGough said.
He urged the relatives of victims who filled the front pews of the church, along with everyone else in the congregation, not to succumb to fear in the wake of the fall of Flight 800 and not to change the way they shepherd their children through the world.
"You let them reach for the skies, you let them do the things in which there might be danger, because you want them to grow," he said.
Nearby, at the Faith United Methodist Church in Montoursville, people dabbed their eyes with tissues from the family-size boxes of Kleenex at every entrance as they said prayers for the five teenagers who were members of that congregation.
Many of the mourners Sunday were not acquainted, even remotely, with anyone aboard the plane, but grieved nonetheless. Stuart Shenkman, a Manhattan resident, felt the need to go somewhere special _ anywhere special _ and so he wandered into St. Patrick's Cathedral, even though he does not regularly go there and is not Catholic.
Others knew the dead well, and struggled to communicate the full measure of what had been lost.
At the church in Tenafly that Bob and Betty Miller had attended, parishioners remembered how Miller, who was more than 6 feet tall, would always sit in a pew in the back so he would not block anyone's view. They remembered the way Mrs. Miller had dutifully studied French in recent months to prepare for her trip to Paris.
Kreisel, the woman who fled the church during the sermon, recalled how the couple greeted her in the parish when she first appeared one day as a newcomer desperately in need of a surrogate family, a circle of friends. The Millers had made sure she got precisely that, she said, and the world seemed suddenly colder and crueler without them.