One year after the murder of 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the local Catholic bishop says that Jesus Christ’s love can be victorious, even over such “profound” sorrow.
Despite the bitterness of loss, the Christian faith offers “the victory of Christ’s love over any and all suffering and pain,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport said.
“The love of Our Lord does not necessarily take away the pain, because the loss is real and profound. The sorrow is profound,” he told CNA Dec. 12. “To lose a child is a wound that perhaps never completely heals. But love is victorious over all sin.”
The bishop strongly praised the response of parents who had lost their children.
“I have been absolutely impressed, deeply impressed by the faith of the parents who I have met, who lost children and yet still remain very strong in their faith and their conviction that love will conquer.”
Dec. 14 marks the one-year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. On that day in 2012, a lone gunman, who had shot and killed his mother that morning, entered the school and gunned down 26 people before taking his own life.
Bishop Caggiano celebrated a morning Mass at the local Catholic church, St. Rose of Lima, to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting. He also blessed a memorial at the church, which hosted most of the funeral services for the shooting victims.
Bishop Caggiano arrived in Connecticut to become head of the Diocese of Bridgeport in September 2013, nine months after the atrocity. He celebrated Mass in Newtown shortly after his installation.
He said that on his first trip to Newtown, he was “so deeply impressed” by the community’s use of the motto, “We choose love.”
“It’s their way of life, they really do choose love over bitterness or over anger,” he added. “In that sense, I think the Catholic faith offers a great testimony that Christ’s love has conquered death not only at Calvary, but in the lives of all of us.”
Priests at St. Rose of Lima Church were among the first people to respond to the shooting at the school, located only minutes away. The church’s pastor, Monsignor Robert Weiss, played a prominent role in consoling the community. He celebrated several funeral Masses for the shooting victims.
One year later, in the parish’s bulletin for Dec. 15, Msgr. Weiss is encouraging parishioners to “never forget that our God is a God of hope, pure love, goodness and forgiveness.”
The past months have posed many challenges for the parish families and communities, he acknowledged.
“Tears continue to fill our eyes as we reflect on the events of that day,” he said, also noting the “great strength” the community has drawn from the affected families’ “courage” and “positive actions” to honor their loved ones.
“It is love and love alone that keeps them and us moving forward.”
Msgr. Weiss also voiced “great gratitude” for the “incredible amount of support” the community has received from around the world. He said that it is “only in faith” that the community can “move forward and find the strength and hope that we need.”
Scottish priest Father Basil O’Sullivan, 81, has been visiting St. Rose of Lima Church since Dec. 9. The 81-year-old priest was living in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996, when a similar shooting took place at the primary school where he served as Catholic chaplain.
Fr. O’Sullivan had written the Connecticut parish offering his prayers and support after the Sandy Hook shooting.
Msgr. Weiss said in the Dec. 8 parish bulletin that Fr. O’Sullivan asked to be present “to support us for the first anniversary.”
He said the Scottish priest has been “one of my strongest sources of support these past several months.”
The parish is also hosting the Bells of Remembrance Project, an idea that started after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Special bells, ranging in weight from 750 to 3,500 pounds, were rung before the Saturday morning memorial Mass to remember the victims.
Bishop Caggiano explained that Msgr. Weiss has been in many ways “a spiritual leader and a tower of strength for so many throughout the tragedy.”
The bishop said he has prayed that the anniversary Mass will be “a moment of healing” and a celebration of “the gift of eternal life that we certainly believe these children now enjoy with the Lord.”