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LAWRENCE -- Hundreds of people attended a candlelit vigil on Aug. 31 to pay their respects for fallen local hero Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, who was one of the 13 United States service members killed in a suicide bombing on Aug. 26 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Father Israel Rodriguez, the pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, was invited to pray at the vigil, which was held at the Veterans Memorial Stadium. He said Rosario's family had requested a Catholic priest and were "very thankful" for his presence.
Gov. Charlie Baker, Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez, other city and state officials, and many service members and veterans were also present for the memorial.
"It was a very moving ceremony," Father Rodriguez said, speaking to The Pilot the following day.
He offered prayers in English and Spanish at the beginning of the ceremony and when they lit the candles, which he said represented the light of Christ.
"We always put in front of us our Lord Jesus Christ, who gives us hope in the moments of sorrow and pain like this one," Father Rodriguez told The Pilot.
He said the lights also represented "every one of us whose lives have been touched by the life, death, and sacrifice of Johanny."
"We pray for her and all those they call 'the fallen heroes,' that the Lord may welcome them into the eternal kingdom, and for all of us that we can continue in a spirit of love," he said.
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Rosario was baptized at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish and attended public school in Lawrence. During high school, she was a member of the Junior ROTC program and an active volunteer at Cor Unum Meal Center, which is run by St. Patrick Parish.
Father Paul O'Brien, the pastor of St. Patrick Parish, knew Rosario during her time as a Cor Unum volunteer.
"She was, at that early age, a person happily devoted to serving people in need. She was a leader, she was dynamic, she was a very hard worker, she was smart, and she was happy," he said on Sept. 1.
He said her military service was "a beautiful expression of a person who wanted to do the right thing for her community, her country, and the world.
Rosario was assigned to the Fifth Marine Expeditionary Brigade, based in Bahrain. She was first deployed to Afghanistan when she was 18. Her second deployment began shortly after the Taliban took over the Afghan government on Aug. 15. As people scrambled to flee the country, Rosario and other U.S. military members helped over 30,000 evacuate and come to the United States.
On Aug. 26, just days before the deadline for withdrawing the U.S. military from Afghanistan, a suicide bomb detonated outside the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, where Rosario was screening women and children trying to leave the country. In addition to the 13 who were killed, several other U.S. service members were wounded, along with scores of Afghan civilians who were killed or wounded.
Father Rodriguez can see the impact of Rosario's death in his parish, where many young adults knew her as a friend and former classmate.
"Everyone has been very affected. When a classmate of yours dies, it has a lot of impact on our youth," he said.
Father O'Brien described Lawrence as a "tight community" despite being a large city.
"People do care very much about one another here, and so her death is felt deeply as a loss, and people's prayer for her eternal life and for her family's peace is very sincere," Father O'Brien said.
In the days following Rosario's death, many public officials expressed their sympathy and support through social media, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Ed Markey, and Dominican Republic ambassador Sonia Guzman.
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley released a series of Twitter posts on Aug. 29, commending Rosario's service and offering prayerful support.
"We mourn her death and the deaths of her fellow service members killed in Afghanistan. She will remain in our prayers always as well as will her family. We pray for peace in Afghanistan and throughout the world. We ask God to bless our military everywhere to keep them safe," Cardinal O'Malley said.