With the mangled steel frame of a destroyed building as backdrop, a host of religious leaders, dignitaries and musicians paid tribute both to the memory of those lost and to the American spirit that has emerged in the tragedy's aftermath.
"We've lost parents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, beloved relatives and friends. They were innocent and they were brutally, viciously, unjustly taken from us," said Edward Cardinal Egan, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York.
"They were executives and office workers, they were managers and laborers, they were adults and children, they were police officers, firefighters and emergency workers. For the past almost seven weeks our world has been engulfed in fear and hurt. Help us set things right, give us the strength to bring the villains to justice," Egan said.
More than 4,000 victims are missing beneath mounds of debris from the wrecked 110-story Twin Towers, destroyed when terrorists commandeered four jetliners, flying two into the Trade Center towers, another into the Pentagon, and a fourth into an open field in rural Pennsylvania. Nearly 500 victims have been identified.
Following the service, each family was offered an urn containing ashes from Ground Zero, a police spokeswoman said.
Imam Izak el Mue'ed Pasha, a Muslim cleric, spoke out against the use of religion to justify acts of violence.
"It is hate that got us into these circumstances that we are in today," Pasha said. "Let there be no compulsion in religion. History shows that our faiths have been used by wrongdoers. They cannot use our faith to do these wrong things."
Clean-up work was halted for the duration of the invitation-only service, but even as mourners in yarmulkes and turbans wept, waved flags and held photos of lost relatives in the air, fire hoses sprayed water over still-smoldering rubble nearby.
American flags at the site were lowered to half-mast as rescue workers, on break from work, sat nearby and watched the service.
"Since Sept. 11 we, the United States of America, have become the reunited States of America," said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, a New York Fire Department chaplain. "We the people of many faiths have become we the people of one family.
"Death may conquer life, but death will not conquer our love," Potasnik said. "We will hold on to this memory, we will hold on to this moment, but most of all we will hold on to one another."
The memorial opened with the National Anthem sung by a New York police officer. Several well-known singers and musicians performed later in the service.
The blind Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli sang Ave Maria, and singer Renee Fleming performed Amazing Grace and God Bless America. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, creator of such Broadway hits, such as "Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats," played piano as a choir performed the song "Let Us Love in Peace."
"We pray today that you will surround these families with your love and that you will comfort them during this time of great personal loss," said Rev. Franklin Graham. "We remember this day the sacrifice that has been made by the Fire Department of New York, and the Police Department and other emergency workers. We will not forget their valiant efforts.
"We pray now for our president, George W. Bush and his cabinet, and especially the armed forces," he said, adding a prayer for Giuliani and Pataki as well.
(Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.)