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Dignitaries pack public memorial in L'Isle Verte

900 pack chuch to pay respect for those who died in tragic fire

A church service that remembered the victims of last week's fire at a Quebec seniors' residence featured a rocking chair, a shawl, a hat and a bouquet of 32 roses as well as tributes to first responders.

Some 900 people packed into L'Isle-Verte's Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church on Saturday to commemorate the lives of the 32 people who have been declared dead or are presumed dead.

Local priest Gilles Frigon paid tribute to the deceased as photos of the victims graced the church.

``Nobody deserves to end their days in such a tragic way,'' Frigon said in his homily. ``I want to thank all those who have prayed for us all across the country. This has allowed us to open our hearts, to get back up...and to become better men and women.''

Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the hour-long ceremony and spoke to reporters afterwards.

``We're all here to express all our condolences and our sympathy to the victims, to their families and to the entire community here,'' Harper said. ``This is a very beautiful place, but this is a very big tragedy. It's something that everybody can identify with. We all have, or have had, parents, grandparents who become elderly, who are terribly vulnerable. And when we see something like this, it breaks the heart of everybody.''

Premier Pauline Marois also honoured the victims.

``It's a magnificent (weather) day,'' she said. ``I hope that will allow people to find peace again in a community that has suffered so much. I feel like telling the community, 'Look after the people who are still here, who are around you.'''

 Pierre-Andre-Fournier, archbishop of Rimouski, hailed the work of first responders, with the presence of an ambulance uniform, a firefighter's helmet and a police officer's cap at the front of the church symbolizing their efforts in the wake of the Jan. 23 tragedy.

``It is difficult for you and I to realize what happened and what we're going through,'' Fournier told the congregation.

``Thirty-two members of our Christian community have left us tragically.''

Twenty-four people have been declared dead and eight others are  listed as missing.

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