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INAUGURAL-CROWD (UPDATED) Jan-21-2009 (1,210 words) With photos posted Jan. 20 and 21. xxxn

Millions brave cold, crowds to see first black US president sworn in

By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sean Kilkenny of Philadelphia braved frigid temperatures, endured jampacked subway cars and got separated from his wife in the crowd of about 2 million on the National Mall.

But he said it was well worth it to see Barack Obama sworn in Jan. 20 as the first black U.S. president.

Bundled in a heavy green coat, thick gloves, wool scarf and blue ski cap, the 36-year-old attorney joined millions of other Americans on the National Mall adjacent to the West Front of the Capitol to cheer on the 44th president, chanting "Obama, Obama, Obama, Obama," and furiously waving their miniature red, white and blue flags.

"I knew I had to be here, no matter what sacrifice I had to make to do it," said Dana Dickey, 43, of Los Angeles, who embraced her 12-year-old son, Devon Moreland, as they shivered and watched the swearing-in ceremony. "We are witnessing history here. I want my son to remember this moment for the rest of his life."

Once on the National Mall, people spread out blankets, gathered close to keep warm in the freezing cold, watched the big-screen monitors set up to view scenes broadcast from the Capitol steps, and reveled in their mutual enthusiasm for the historic event they came to witness.

Along the parade route some in the crowd had waited in line since 7:30 a.m. to pass security checkpoints.

One of them was Craig Thompson, who arrived from Columbus, Ohio, with his wife and four children at 2 a.m. on Inauguration Day.

"My wife said we had to be here," Thompson told Catholic News Service while in line at a checkpoint. "This is history. We wanted our children to say they were here for the first (black president)."

Thompson was holding his 1-year-old son, Maxwell, while 6-year-old Miles kept his younger brother entertained as they waited in the cold sunshine.

"It tells them that anything is possible," Thompson said. "Both my wife and I have advanced degrees. We tell our kids you've got to be tough and work hard."

Also waiting to clear security was Claire Mott, 51, a member of Holy Family Parish in Newark, Del., who said she did not want to miss the inauguration.

"I've known Joe Biden since I was in eighth grade. I worked all his campaigns," she said about the nation's new vice president. The former U.S. senator from Delaware is the nation's first Catholic vice president.

"We're really going to get this nation back on track with Barack and Joe in place," Mott said. "Everybody's coming together, no matter what race, creed, nationality. We're coming together. I've seen people of all nationalities today."

Meanwhile on the National Mall, George and Eva Madszar, members of St. Angela Merici Parish in Fairview Park, Ohio, said the Mall was full of tremendous energy from the millions of people witnessing history.

"It was definitely a positive spirit," Eva Madszar told CNS. "A lot of the people were very supportive of the change in office. I think people are ready for change."

Spectators wearing Obama ski caps and Obama shirts carried signs that expressed their trust in the new president, while a few random bystanders held up posters that articulated their dissatisfaction with the voters' choice in a new leader.

The Madszars were standing near the Washington Monument, where they experienced the powerful sight of the sea of people surrounding them, standing and cheering on the Mall.

After they got separated in the crowd, Kilkenny, who is in the Army National Guard and temporarily stationed in Virginia, and his wife had to watch the ceremony from different locations.

"Yes, all of this was a pain, but ultimately it was worth it to be here and witness the first black man to be sworn into office," he said.

"I voted for (Sen. Hillary Rodham) Clinton in the primary because I didn't think a black man could win the general election. I am so happy I was wrong about that," he continued.

"I am Catholic, and I know a lot of the bishops didn't want us to vote for Obama, but I think there are a lot of Catholics like me who knew this man was the right choice to lead our country," he said. "It's not that we don't have faith in our church. We do, but we also have faith that Barack Obama has the right qualities to be a great president."

As he was watching the swearing-in, he was moved so deeply that he shed a couple of tears.

Tim Gerken, who came to Washington from Toledo, Ohio, said it was hard to put into words what he felt after hearing Obama's inaugural speech.

"It was crazy," he said of the speech. Americans hopefully now will "step it up" and act, Gerken said.

Gerken, a teacher at St. Francis de Sales High School in Toledo, noted how so many people today are in unfortunate circumstances. Gerken expressed hope that the speech would help people "realize they can help more."

Across the Mall Miguel Diaz, a theology professor at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in Minnesota, told CNS that, as a Catholic, he thought "the presidency of Barack Obama represents a new opportunity for all of us" for racial healing.

In his speech, Obama was "very realistic in telling us there are hard times ahead," said Diaz, who watched the inaugural ceremony on the Mall.

He told CNS that he was inspired by the youths on the Mall who were "energized by the swearing-in ceremony."

Diaz, who was active in the Obama campaign, said he was looking forward "to moving beyond the politics of fear to the politics of hope."

Obama was "committed to working" with people who defend "life in the womb" and deeply respects people who hold positions he does not agree with, said Diaz.

"Wherever we can, we should advance life at all stages," he said.

"Thank you, Jesus, I'm glad to be here," said Candace Walsh of Memphis, Tenn., who brought her son Evan, a third-grader at St. Paul School in Memphis, to the inauguration. The Walshes and a sorority sister of Candace's from Houston took a Greyhound bus from Baltimore to Washington, then walked to the Washington Monument to take in the swearing-in.

"We saw people in wheelchairs, we saw babies in strollers, we saw blind folk, we saw all kinds of people," Walsh told CNS in a phone interview afterward. "We did make some new friends. We ran into two guys who slept in the portapotties all night so they could be on the Mall. But they did say that the portapotties were warm. I'm not sure I'm that dedicated to the cause."

Walsh, who is African-American, expressed sadness that her mother was not alive to see the inauguration of the nation's first black president, but her son "won't forget this day," she declared. "I know he won't forget this day. He will always remember that, if nothing else, he was there. He was there on this historic day."

- - -

Contributing to this story were Dennis Sadowski, Regina Linskey and Mark Pattison.


Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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