NEWTOWN – On the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, more than 800 people gathered at St. Rose of Lima Church for a Mass of Remembrance, in search of healing and hope.
They looked for healing from a tragedy that Bishop Frank Caggiano said could not be captured in words, when a disturbed young man took the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators shortly before Christmas. “There are certain events that defy any attempt to describe them,” Bishop Caggiano said in his homily. “Nothing compares to the terrible pain of losing a child.”
He said many people are scarred while some carry pain as real as it was on December 14, 2012.
“How do we move forward five years after this tragedy with so many people hurting?” he asked. “Every human breaks differently and every human heals differently. Everyone heals differently, but you can’t do it alone.”
That healing, he said, is to be found in a love that conquers all evil, and that love is Christ, who suffers with us.
At the beginning of the service, the names of the 26 children and adults were read. A solitary bell rang after each name, and a student, accompanied by the member of the Knights of Columbus, walked forward and hung an angel on a Christmas tree.
Candles flickered on the altar in memory of the victims, and throughout the day, families came into the church to light votive candles before statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph and offer their prayers. At the foot of the altar, 26 white orchids surrounded the statue of an angel.
In the congregation were Gov. Dannel and Cathy Malloy, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, State Sen. Tony Hwang, former State Sen. John McKinney, and other state officials.
Joining Bishop Caggiano and Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose, at the altar were more than 10 other priests and deacons.
In his homily, Bishop Caggiano recounted the passage in John’s Gospel where the resurrected Christ appears to his disciples and tells Thomas to feel his wounds.
“When Jesus appeared to his apostles, He appeared with his wounds,” the Bishop said. “We will always be wounded, and yet the message of the Gospel is that we can move forward to new life. … We do not come here in vain because our Father in Heaven will lead us forward in healing and hope.”
“Even in his glory, Jesus continued to bear his wounds,” Bishop Caggiano said, “And He will bear them for all eternity because our God stands with us in our suffering. In their moment of greatest need, Christ was there five years ago. He is our healing and our hope.”
Bishop Caggiano emphasized the importance of community solidarity, where we find true Christian love, and the “the burden of leadership,” which is willing to endure the suffering of others.
“It is all about solidarity,” he said. “I have seen tremendous support here over the past five years. You should be proud of the community you have formed. Despite our differences, we are one family. We need each other, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, and love allows us to heal together and remember those who have gone before us, glorified in Christ and praying for us.”
Walker Previdi, brother of Caroline Previdi who died in the shooting, did two readings at Mass, and afterward Msgr. Weiss praised him and said, “Somewhere in heaven right now there is a little girl who is happier than everybody else because she saw her brother get up in front of everybody and read.”
In his comments, Gov. Malloy recalled the events of five years ago and thanked the community for its “love and passion and beauty.” He shared a story about meeting a woman who said she “prayed to those who were lost that day.” When Malloy questioned her choice of words and suggested we “pray for” them, she replied, “No, I pray to them. They died in a pure state and I gather strength from them.” Malloy added, “And we gather strength from them as well.”
Sen. Blumenthal said, “Five years ago, we came to love, to cry, to pray and to be with each other. …The world watched as this community came together in courage and strength and faith that left me in awe.” At the time, he said he was given a bracelet with the words “Love wins.” Since then, the words have worn off. Nevertheless, he said, “Love will win; love always wins.”
Sen. Murphy thanked the community for its strength and said, “These children had a fire of purity and a passion that we see in so many of your faces still burning today. It is burning in a way that is changing lives.”
Bishop Caggiano praised Msgr. Weiss as a leader who has walked with others in their pain. “He has always been there for you,” he said. “He is a great priest and a great father to this community.” The congregation responded with a sustained standing ovation.
Eight children from St. Rose perished in the shooting. They were children he had baptized, and some were preparing for First Holy Communion. Suddenly, it was his responsibility to bury them. The morning of December 14, he was the among the first clergy to arrive at the school with Newtown police. Later that day, he would accompany them to inform parents their children had died.
“There’s still a great deal of pain, there’s still a great deal of anger,” he said in a recent interview. “The path to healing and forgiveness has not been an easy one.”
At the end of the service, he said, “It is on the shoulders of all of us to change our hearts. Laws won’t lead to the change we need. The task is a difficult one, but one I know we can accomplish.”
Photos by Michelle Babyak