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Newtown’s Long Journey

AFP.Brendan Smialowski

John Burger - published on 12/08/13 - updated on 06/07/17

Sister Mary, the social worker at the Academy of the Holy Angels in Demarest, N.J., and Luke, her border collie, have helped people dealing with trauma in places like Tuscaloosa after the devastating tornados in 2011, and in Boston after the marathon bombing earlier this year. A child at St. Rose had seen a picture of Luke from one of his visits to Newtown and expressed a desire to meet the dog.

“I went up there after religious ed class on a Wednesday afternoon, and the child came right up and hugged Luke,” said Sister Mary. “We went for a walk, over by the church. Another teacher asked the child, ‘Would you like to go into the church with Luke?’”

The child agreed, and sat down on the rug near the sanctuary, petting and talking to the dog.
“When you go to church with your parents, you can think about what it was like being here with Luke,” Sister Mary said to the child, who soon after started going back to church.
Sister Mary worked with the child on subsequent visits, and eventually the child felt comfortable enough, with Luke’s help, to return to class as well.

Therapy dogs are not a panacea, of course, and this child, as well as many others, have been receiving ongoing professional therapy.

There have also been more requests for spiritual counseling, and Msgr. Weiss said he has done a lot recently, including counseling of children who were friends of the victims.

“What we’re finding is that it wasn’t necessarily what happened on December 14,” he said. “What happened that day surfaced a lot of issues that people suppressed or just didn’t deal with prior to it.”

The pastor said that parents of victims have been “receiving a lot of professional psychological counseling” and that “the ones who have held on to their faith have been a powerful witness. They’re counseling us. We’re taking a lead from them, the incredible faith that they have.”

Respect for Life

Some families over the past year have taken on roles as advocates for gun control and mental health. Issues like that took center stage in the aftermath of the shooting, and in some of his homilies last year, Msgr. Weiss stressed the need to go beyond particular policy issues to address violence in society. He still feels that the most important thing is a renewal of society’s respect for human life, and he often broaches the subje
ct from the pulpit.

“He sometimes says, ‘Think about whether you really want your child to have that violent video game,’” Arsenault reported. “Think about what that can do to their own mind in desensitizing them to death or to violence.”

“I’ve always felt that until all of us embrace life and embrace the respect each person deserves, all the legislation in the world is not going to help us,” Msgr. Weiss said in an interview. “We really need to adapt an attitude about life, and our new Holy Father is really helping us to do that. I’m still very hopeful.”

He spoke about the importance of the Church taking the lead in restoring a culture of life. “I’m glad we’re a pro-life Church. I’m glad that we take the stand that we do on these pro-life issues, and violence is a big one.”

He indicted the entertainment industry for desensitizing young people to violence. “I don’t think they are as shocked at the amount of violence that goes on,” he said. “They’re just lowering and changing all the ratings for movies so younger people can see more violent movies. … Young kids are just accepting it as a way of life. It’s not a way of life; it certainly shouldn’t be the way of life to which we’re called.”

One area where the Church can make a contribution is in the education of its youth. St. Rose of Lima School has about 400 students in pre-K through 8. Principal Mary R. Maloney said that in the wake of the tragedy, the school has implemented a number of changes, such as hiring a guidance counselor and initiating a program to help teachers identify issues with student long before they turn into major, even violent, problems.

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