The day after last Monday’s Boston marathon bombings, the former mayor who embodies the great big heart and soul of that great city was defiant and determined. They not only responded to the terror with great humanity that day he told me on Tuesday, they would come back stronger and in greater numbers for next year’s Patriot’s Day landmark event. Nobody could have yet known what the week would still hold for Bostonians, and how drained they would be by the end of it. But, thank God, it ended.

It began at the marathon’s finish line, where former Mayor Ray Flynn enjoyed the day with his daughter and grandchildren as an annual event that went back to his younger days of running the marathon himself, when his own children waited at the finish line. Several of his grandchildren were near the explosion, thankfully uninjured physically. But it took a toll on everyone in other ways, especially little children. His family’s story probably speaks for everyone’s in and around Boston in some way.

Ray Flynn wrote that “cowards with bombs tried to spread hate in our city. Our children — and my grandchildren — are answering with love.” 

Here’s his account, one he shared with me by email:

Like 8-year-old Martin Richard, who can’t have been too far away in the crowd, they were eating an ice cream and enjoying a great event for kids. You look at the photos from that day, and the crowd is full of children.

Their innocent world took a sudden ugly turn when two deadly bombs exploded, and the streets were filled with the screams of terrified and injured people, and the sight of blood, people down, and people running.

I had been there earlier, but left before the blasts. When my daughter Maureen Foley called me, I raced back to Copley Square and found my grandkids running down the street with hundreds of other frightened people. The look on their faces was not something I ever want to see again.

They couldn’t stop crying, “Did anybody die, Papa?”

There were a lot of kids there, they told me. It was difficult to calm them down or even begin to try to explain how anybody could do such a cowardly thing.

The kids had a very difficult Monday night, still asking my daughter Maureen if any kids had died.

When they heard about Martin Richard, like everyone who heard that news, they were all very upset.

But kids believe in doing something, and it didn’t take long.

“Mommy, can we sell lemonade and cookies and give all the money to Martin’s family?” one of the kids said. “All my friends at school, all the kids who play sports with us will help us.”

They began texting their friends. Hundreds of calls and texts from young kids in their town, Braintree, began pouring in.

The result? (Friday, at a public school) in Braintree, you will see a lot of caring young children and their parents — love growing where cowards had hoped to plant hate.

The Braintree Patch, a local community newspaper, found out about it ahead of time and published this.

On Marathon Monday, the Foley family sat in the bleachers near the finish line, cheering on Uncle Patrick, who was running for CarePacks, an organization that sends basic necessities to our troops, when the bombs went off.

That’s just one more important aspect of all this to point out, that many runners participate in the grueling training and race itself on behalf of some charity. That’s a big part of the annual race and celebration.

Maureen Foley and her four children – Michael, 10, Ava and Julia, both 8, and Flynn, 5 – have decided to take that experience and turn it into a positive, helping raise money for the Richard family, who lost their 8-year-old son Martin in the attack. Martin’s mother and sister were both injured.

“Thank God they were unharmed physically, but to have witnessed such a horrific scene is devastating for anyone,” Foley said of her kids in an email. “They were determined that something positive was going to come out of this experience.”

The paper reported that the Foleys would have a lemonade stand in front of their school at mid-day Friday, “with all proceeds sent to the Richard family.”

“Please come by, show your Braintree pride, and let the Richard Family know that we share their pain,” Foley said.

Friday evening, Ray Flynn told me that over 2,000 people came and the children raised over $6,500 and donated it all to the Richard Family.

We talked about the message of his good friend Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Boston’s Archbishop, at the ‘Healing Our City’ interfaith service at the cathedral the evening before. It can be seen here on Cardinal Sean’s blog and is well worth viewing and hearing. Every bit of it.

He shared the message Pope Francis sent for the occasion.

The Holy Father prays that we will be united in the resolve not to be overcome by evil, but to combat evil with good, working together to build an ever more just, free and secure society for generations to come.

And Cardinal Sean said the horror of “an act of senseless violence that has caused all of us great shock and pain” was “a start reminder of the darkness that can lurk in the human heart and produce such evil. ”

And yet the same tragedy brought us together as a community like nothing else ever could. The generous and courageous response of so many assures us that there resides in people’s hearts a goodness that is incredibly selfless. We saw that when summoned by great events we can be remarkably committed to the well-being of others, even total strangers. We become a stronger people, a more courageous people, and a more noble people.

So much of this brief reflection Cardinal O’Malley gave spoke deeply to the way we live our public lives in America today, and Ray Flynn recalled growing up when messages like his were in the air he and his siblings breathed, the Fulton J. Sheen messages about sacrifice, prayer, pride. What Patriot’s Day has always represented, though the culture has gone off that track over time.

This Patriots’ Day shakes us out of our complacency and indifference and calls us to focus on the task of building a civilization that is based on love, justice, truth and service. We do not want to risk losing the legacy of those first patriots who were willing to lay down their lives for the common good. We must overcome the culture of death by promoting a culture of life, a profound respect for each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God, and we must cultivate a desire to give our lives in the service of others.

He had just returned from the Holy Land and referred to the Sermon on the Mount they had reflected on while in Galilee, which was recalled in prayer at the interfaith service last Thursday. And Cardinal Sean made a strikingly good point right then.

Often in the Gospels, we can see the contrast between the crowd and the community. The crowd is made up of self-absorbed individuals, each one focused on his or her own interests in competition with the conflicting projects of others. A community is where people come to value each other, and find their own identity in being part of something bigger than themselves, working together for the common good.

This is such a good message for us now. No matter what faith or creed of those assembled at that service or any of us considering these words, people of goodwill would probably agree…

The Sermon on the Mount, in many ways, is the Constitution of the people called to live a new life. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with offenses, by reconciliation. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with violence, by nonviolence. He gives us a new way to deal with money, by sharing and providing for those in need. Jesus gives us a new way to deal with leadership, by drawing upon the gift of every person, each one a child of God.

This is a soft and gentle challenge, or an encouragement if you will.

In the face of the present tragedy, we must ask ourselves what kind of a community do we want to be, what are the ideals that we want to pass on to the next generation. It cannot be violence, hatred and fear. The Jewish people speak of Tikkun Olam, “repairing the world.” God has entrusted us with precisely that task, to repair our broken world. We cannot do it as a collection of individuals; we can only do it together, as a community, as a family. Like every tragedy, Monday’s events are a challenge and an opportunity for us to work together with a renewed spirit of determination and solidarity and with the firm conviction that love is stronger than death.

He ended with the famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi known as the ‘peace prayer,’ and Ray Flynn laughed when he told me that somebody in the media remarked to him afterward “what a wonderful speech Cardinal Sean gave about peace.” Flynn enjoyed heartily that the media person had no idea those were the words of the famous Franciscan priest. The saint, in fact, who inspired the current pope to take his name.

It was probably the best laugh Ray Flynn had all week, and possibly the only one. It was “relentlessly unnerving,” in the apt words of the Washington Post. One of the little girls at the lemonade stand was wearing a ‘Boston Strong’ T-shirt, already out before week’s end. That was the rallying cry of the week, and remains so.

And the week ended with Cardinal Sean calling for reconciliation.

“Forgiveness is part of our obligation as disciples of the Lord,” O’Malley said. “It’s only a culture of life and ethic of love that can rescue us from a culture of violence.”…

Richard Paris, 54, a Boston firefighter and president of Local 718, came with his wife, Eileen Paris, 53, and their son, Michael Paris, 14. The family had many friends, including first responders who were on the scene when the bombs went off.

Both husband and wife said O’Malley’s message hit home and reminded them of the importance of faith and compassion — even for the suspects.

“The world’s got to get on one page,” Richard Paris said.

Boston has started writing it, eloquently.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....