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Newtown’s Long Journey

AFP.Brendan Smialowski

John Burger - published on 12/08/13

Parish that lost eight children in Sandy Hook school shooting still trying to bring the Light of Christ one year later.

Adam Lanza killed his own mother, 20 school children, six teachers and administrators, and then himself – but his carnage did not stop there.

Like the glass door he shot his way through at the Sandy Hook Elementary School the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, the greater community of Newtown, Conn., has in a sense been left shattered into hundreds, if not thousands, of shards. Lanza’s assault has reverberated through the victims’ extended families, area schools and houses of worship, marriages and relationships and the everyday lives of countless individuals struggling with stress, and haunted by nightmares.

What was a quiet, rural New England town suddenly became the center of worldwide media attention. A year that began with funerals and memorials has been filled with debates over gun control, violent video games and mental health; efforts to provide therapy, and a desperate attempt to answer basic questions: Why? and How to prevent this from happening again?

A recent report of the investigation into the school massacre offered several clues, but no conclusions, on why the 20-year-old Lanza committed the crime. Lanza’s parents divorced in 2001, and his father remarried. There was a marked drop in contact between Adam and his father since 2010. The young man spent much of his time holed up in his room, playing video and computer games, apparently including a game called “School Shooting,” where the player controls a character who enters a school and shoots at students.

Reading the report, one gets the sense that Lanza’s was a life led in a kind of darkness. He surely brought darkness into the lives of so many. Indeed, according to the natural season, it was the darkest time of the year – but also a time when that natural darkness is countered by the multitude of lights. The Christmas liturgy uses the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John, which notes that “the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not overcome it.”

Those are the words inscribed on a bell that was struck in honor of the Sandy Hook victims, to be dedicated by the Catholic parish in town, St. Rose of Lima, on the first anniversary. St. Rose had a week’s worth of funerals in the days leading up to Christmas last year – for eight school children, far more than the community’s other houses of worship. The parish will remember the victims at a Mass on the morning of Dec. 14, offered by Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.

That evening, the parish will dedicate a sculpture in front of its school. The “Angel of Hope” will be “placed in front of our school to protect our students,” according to an announcement in a recent church bulletin.

The parish is not relying on the Angel of Hope alone to protect students. As in other schools nationwide in the wake of similar tragedies, such as Columbine, security measures have been bolstered at St. Rose. But it’s safe to say that the theological virtues of Hope and Faith are protecting not only students but all parishioners from a kind of despair.

“The community is still pretty fragile,” said Msgr. Robert Weiss, the pastor, in an interview Nov. 22. “There’s still a heaviness here, still a sadness, certainly, in the community. “We’re all at different stages of the grief process. The anger has certainly settled in and has taken a variety of directions. All the things we were told by professionals who have been through these traumas before have been happening.”

There has been an increase in “domestic situations,” for example, and “some marital issues that have developed as a result of this,” he said.

He said there was already stress in the community because of a poor economy “and everything else going on in the world,” but that the school shooting “certainly has increased the stress. You see an increase of people on prescription drugs; you see an increase with some people using alcohol.”

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