“Even on the darkest days in our life, there is hope,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said to almost 400 who gathered at St. Margaret Shrine this morning for Mass and the dedication of the Sandy Hook Memorial, just days before the 4th anniversary of the shootings.
“Four years ago we experienced a day of deep darkness. The souls of so many were challenged so deeply. You and I and the whole nation were in shock,” the bishop said of the Sandy Hooking shootings that took the lives of 20 first graders and six teachers in Newtown. On a bitter cold and bright morning, congregants processed out of the Church to a hillside site on the Shrine grounds where the new memorial was unveiled and blessed by the bishop.
In his homily for the Gaudete Sunday Mass, the bishop said that hope and joy are more reliable than happiness in describing the human condition. He said that while people may enjoy happiness at times, their lives inevitably are touched pain and suffering. “No matter how deep the pain, there is a gift that no one can take from us: hope is born in the power of the love of God. No matter how profound the loss, his love can pierce through the pain.” Speaking to those who filled the small wooden chapel and also participated in the Mass through live streaming in the lower level chapel, the bishop said, “We come to remember the Newtown tragedy not as people look at history or even as a community resolved to love one another, but as a people of hope.
Bishop Caggiano described First Responders as “angels of mercy” during human tragedy, and also said that Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, provided extraordinary and compassionate leadership when people most needed hope. Music was provided by members of the Italian Choir and the Youth Choir of St. Margaret Shine. Deacon Don Foust, Shrine administrator, joined Bishop Caggiano and priests around the altar. The Mass and dedication ceremony reunited some of those who were there on the day of one of the worst mass shootings in U. S. history and also connected two faith communities within the diocese.
Newtown Police Chief James Viadero, a 23-year resident of the town, and Bridgeport Police Chief A. J. Perez attending the Mass and the dedication. Msgr. Robert Weiss’s voice waivered as he acknowledged Fr. Luke Suarez and noted that the young parochial vicar has “stood by my side” in the Sandy Hook Firehouse before he had to tell parents that their children had died. He said that he and the parents were “overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity” they received from people across the nation, and that he was grateful that during the national tragedy his parish was able “to give a powerful face of what faith can be in a tragedy.”
“No one in the firehouse that day asked, ‘Why did god do this,’ he said. “They knew it was evil, but they also believed that God is love and life.” A total of eight children from St. Rose died in the shooting on December 14, 2012 and were buried at St. Rose the following week. In the dedication ceremony Senator Richard Blumenthal, who traveled to Newtown immediately after learning of the shootings and spent of the day consoling parents and families, said that St. Rose of Lima Parish inspired the entire nation. Remembering a day of “unspeakable pain, grief and tragedy,” the U.S. Senators said he also experienced the “indescribable warmth and grace within the church.”
“The whole world was watching and they saw something larger than themselves, a tremendous courage, strength and faith and a generosity of spirit,” he said. Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim said that everyone remembers where they were that day and they also remember the courage and faith of the parish. He presented Bishop Caggiano with a “recognition” from the city, that said, “Twenty tiny hearts and six heroes became twenty-six angels.”
Construction for the Sandy Hook Memorial began last November under the leadership of Armando Palumbo who created the painting of Jesus and the children. The mural is set in a brick and cement surround, which many volunteers helped to construct. The inscription is taken from the Gospel of Matthew (19:14), “Let the little children come to me. Do not hinder them for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as they.” The granite engraving at the base of the memorial reads: “In Loving Memory of the 26 Innocent Lives Taken in Newton, CT, December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.” The memorial was constructed through a gift from the John DiMarco family, owners of Luigi’s Pastry and built b Brown Monument and Ned Steinmetz. The project was also supported by UNICO Bridgeport Chapter, friends and co-workers.
St. Margaret Shrine is a diocesan shrine located in the North End of Bridgeport. It is open to all who wish to visit, pray and enjoy the beautiful outdoor shrines as well as the daily celebration of Mass in the chapel. The outdoors shrine and grottoes are open throughout the year. The grounds also include a St. Anthony Chapel, an All Saints Chapel, and a Veterans Memorial.