Thousands gather in South End to attend, even from outside, Boston Marathon healing service

On Monday, Anthe Kelley took her three children to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Today, she was outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross standing with her three children among the hundreds seeking to attend the healing service being held inside.

“Just to feel like we’re here and we’re present is enough,” said Kelley, who was not at the finish line when the terrorist bombs detonated. “We want to participate in this space of feeling together.”

The service is being attended by President Obama, his wife, Michelle, Mayor Menino and other elected officials.

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As the start of the service approached at the South End church, traffic barriers moved farther and farther from the church, stopping traffic blocks away. By 10 a.m. spectators were lined along the sidewalk across from the church at least three deep.

Many wore black, others wore clothes bearing Boston logos, some wore their marathon jackets, one woman had blue and yellow ribbons in her hair.

Despite the crowd, police, often with the help of spectators, kept a clear path open on the sidewalk for people to travel.

Police officers walked through the crowds and stood along the street and sidewalks, sometimes offering directions. When a window in the building across from the cathedral opened, an officer on the street yelled up for it to be closed immediately.

Lorri Miner was also in the line today.

“I just had to be here,’’ said Lorri Miner of Quincy, who held an American flag and cried as she waited in the long lines outside the cathedral. A recent widower, she was eager to see Cardinal Sean O’Malley. “This city needs prayer. Our city needs prayer. I need prayer.’’

Among the throngs was a large group of people, dressed in black, who planned to mount a counterprotest if the fringe religious group called the Westboro Baptist Church appears, as they have at funeral services for American servicemen killed in combat overseas.

“I wanted to show my support for the victims,’’ said John Faria of Lowell. “And let Westboro know they’re not welcome here.”

The cathedral holds about 2,000 people and about half of the seats are reserved for invited guests. About 1,000 seats were released to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

Some people arrived in line, which stretched for blocks through the South End today, as early as 6:30 a.m. Among those in line were nuns from the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth in Newton and a cluster of women who started singing “This Little Light of Mine’’ as they waited.

Despite their own interest in attending in person, about a dozen people who had been given the blue tickets guaranteeing them a seat notified security officials that they would hand over their tickets to marathon runners they had spotted standing in line behind them. Security personnel took the runners out of the line and led them into the church.

Among those who got inside the cathedral was Matthew Van, 24, a Boston University student originally from Los Angeles. Van had planned to come with a group of Boston University students, but struck out on his own when the friends did not move quickly. He arrived around 6 a.m. and explained his decision before entering the cathedral.

“I came here today to show that we’re made of stronger stuff than the crazies who tried to destabilize us the other day,’’ he said. “It’s important as a city to show our strength.’’

Ann Whittaker, 72, of Brockton, was told that the cathedral is full to capacity.

But she didn’t care.

“Just to be here is enough,’’ she said.

(Roy Greene of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.)

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