Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, of the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, hugs Safeway employee Brian Hansen during a prayer service outside the Safeway at Ina and Oracle. DAVID SANDERS / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Prayer flags, holy water, songs and tears were used to try to reclaim the shopping center that was the site of so much grief so few days ago.

Two dozen spiritual leaders gathered before the northwest-side Safeway to lead employees and passers-by in what was billed as a "service of cleansing and healing" to pay reverence at the site.

"Sometimes, the sacredness of space is violated by violence," said Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, listing 9/11, Columbine, Oklahoma City and now, Tucson, as examples.

But, he said, the presence of God was among those who died, those who were wounded, and those who rallied to the aid of others.

"Our community has pulled together so beautifully to memorialize this space and reclaim it for all that is good and right," he said, with a backdrop of flowers, votive candles and stuffed toys in a shrine that has grown at the site since the Jan. 8 rampage.

Minerva Carcaño, the bishop of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, said that despite the ugliness of that day, there was also good that shouldn't be overlooked.

Loving husbands shielded their wives. A man guided another to safety. A woman tried to shelter a child. A young man walked into danger because he knew how to save a life.

"God was here on that terrible and tragic day and God is here on this day," she said.

Believers know there isn't anything that can't be redeemed by God, she said. "God can redeem even this place," she said, praying for healing and wholeness.

The leaders sprinkled holy water around the site before leading the crowd in a collective prayer for mercy and the hymn "Peace is Flowing Like a River." It ended with strangers prompted to greet one another, many of them hugging and wiping away tears.

The service was not publicly announced to ensure there wasn't too much disruption in a shopping plaza just starting to find its way back to normalcy, but 44-year-old Allyson Tofel was among those who came upon the service unexpectedly as she came to do her shopping. A Mormon, Tofel also went to the memorial last week with President Obama.

"I think all the talk about cleansing helps," she said. "And just watching everyone's faces here - it's so clear how much we care about each other."

Jan Monro, a 66-year-old snowbird and Methodist from Minnesota, has been coming back to the site every couple of days, not necessarily to make sense of it - there's no doing that - but just because she's drawn to it, as a grandmother of a 9-year-old. "It really helps to come and see how many great people are in Tucson who deeply care about what happened," she said.

She'd been unable to cry, she said, until the service. When she heard the songs, her tears let loose.

Meanwhile, a member of the Sikh community, Sat Bir Kaur Khalsa, said it seemed fitting to see people from so many religions together.

After all, she noted, quoting a comment a colleague had relayed to her, it was here that a white Catholic Republican judge was killed while coming to greet a Democratic Jewish congresswoman, whose life was saved first by a Mexican-American college student and later by an Asian-American combat surgeon, and who were all honored when an African-American president came to share their contributions.

"It's just very impactful to see all these groups working together in harmony like this."

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at or 573-4243.

Also: multimedia related to the Giffords shootings »»

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