Dignity and soft tears from mourners facing harsh reality

Click to follow

There were no cries for vengeance from the pulpit, no extravagant tears or grandiose expressions of self-pity.

There were no cries for vengeance from the pulpit, no extravagant tears or grandiose expressions of self-pity. As hundreds of government officials, church leaders, foreign dignitaries and relatives and friends of the dead came together at Sydney's Anglican cathedral yesterday – the first formal ceremony to mourn Australia's losses from the bombing – the tone was instead one of sobering reality and remarkable restraint.

The pews at St Andrew's Cathedral were filled to overflowing for the lunchtime service, and the congregation included several relatives and friends of at least one man confirmed to be among the dead – a 26-year-old rugby league player for the Coogee Dolphins team from just outside Sydney, called Adam Howard.

Such was the dignity of the occasion that at first few people could tell who had been directly affected by the bombing and who had simply wandered in on their lunchbreak. Only when the opening strains of "Amazing Grace" were struck up by the Royal Australian Air Force Air Command Band did tears begin to flow and mourners offer each other gentle hugs around the shoulder.

"We will not offer any easy explanations of evil," the acting dean of the cathedral, John McIntosh, announced in his opening address, and indeed the service was remarkable for its refusal to pander to simplistic notions of good versus bad, or us versus them.

Australia has so far responded to its calamity with deep shock but little or no aggressive instinct. Yesterday's keynote reading, from Paul's letter to the Romans, was delivered by the governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir, and it was all about rejecting vengeance. "If your enemies are hungry," Dr Bashir read, "feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink."

President George Bush said earlier this week that those who blew up the two clubs in Bali were "without souls, without a conscience" – the sort of rhetoric that has become common currency in the US over the past year. But that was not the line taken by Robert Forsyth, the Bishop of Sydney. "It wasn't 'terrorism' which did this," he said in his sermon, "it was people who did this ... It was committed by people – like us."

Last night, 30 Australians were confirmed dead, with another 140 unaccounted for. A national day of mourning has been declared for this Sunday.