This morning at 9:30 a.m. thousands of churches across the country tolled their bells 26 times in memory of the 26 victims gunned down in Newtown, Conn., just a week ago. Many people also observed a moment of silence.
Also this morning the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. bishops issued a statement in response to the tragedy pledging their prayers for the families and the communities mourning the loss of loved ones, reiterating their support in a 2000 statement for “measures that control the sale and use of firearm … that make guns safer” and for “sensible regulations of handguns.”
The chairmen of domestic policy, communications and marriage and family life committees also urged a return to values that foster a culture of life and said there is a need for resources to help people with mental illness and their families and caregivers.
Yesterday, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan celebrated a funeral Mass for teacher Anne Marie McGowan Murphy, who died cradling a student. She was buried from St. Mary of the Assumption in Katonah, N.Y. In his homily, he likened her to Jesus, laying down her life for another. As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the cardinal issued a statement about the tragedy Dec. 14.
In the days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, individual Catholic bishops not only released statements decrying the senseless violence which occurred but they also wrote about it in blogs and addressed it in homilies and letters.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia wrote in his blog that 13 years ago when he was archbishop of Denver he helped bury some of the victims of the Columbine High School shooting.
“Nothing is more helpless or heart-breaking than to sit with parents who kissed their children goodbye in the morning and will never see them alive again in this world. The pain of loss is excruciating. Words of comfort all sound empty,” he wrote.
The archbishop noted that the victims in the recent school shooting “were even younger and more numerous than those at Columbine, and if such intense sorrow could be measured, the suffering of the Connecticut family members left behind might easily be worse.”
“With such young lives cut so short, every parental memory of an absent child will be precious — compounded by a hunger for more time and more memories that will never happen. This is why we need to keep the grieving families so urgently in our hearts and prayers.”
Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote in his blog that he has written in four other blog entries about the need for the federal, state and local government to ”do something about assault weapons of mass destruction.” He said his writings on this topic generate the angriest comments he receives with commenters urging him to “preach the Gospel and stay out of politics.”
The bishop highlighted the example of Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, ”for his heroic presence to the families who lost children or their adult parents” saying he “represented the Lord to these grieving people in the only way he could, by being present, listening, not responding with pious platitudes. He was a good shepherd, a great pastor.”
In a Dec. 16 homily at the Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston called the shooting in Newtown a “tragedy of almost biblical proportions that has caused the whole country to stop and take notice.”
“It is hard to imagine how deep pain the pain of those families whose little ones lost their lives. The children and teachers who survived the attack will long suffer the trauma of being exposed to such senseless violence. It was heart-rendering to watch the police leading the children out of the school; telling them to close their eyes so that the images of the slain children would not be burned indelibly into their memories.”
He also noted how the Newtown community “has come together to pray and to find strength in mutual support. For those of us who are believers prayer and the firm faith in eternal life is our consolation.”
The cardinal said the violent shooting is a ”clarion call to initiate effective legislation to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of private citizens. There can be no rational justification for allowing private citizens to have personal arsenals of assault weapons. How many innocent people will have to be slaughtered before the country is prepared to stop this madness?”
The shooting also elicited a response from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, president of the CCCB, wrote a Dec. 17 letter to Cardinal Dolan expressing ”heartfelt prayers and deepest sympathies” to the families and community of Newtown, the Diocese of Bridgeport and the parish of St. Rose of Lima.
“Canadians join with Americans and the rest of the world in lamenting this tragic moment. It is not only the local community of Newtown or your own nation which is experiencing such great loss and sorrow, but also the whole of North American society. Our culture has become mesmerized and exploited by violence in its many dehumanizing and senseless forms. Its victims are not only the dead, the wounded, their families and the citizens of Newtown. Each of us has been injured and hurt: every heart by the images of human suffering, every soul by the malice and cruelty at work in any act of violence,” wrote Archbishop Smith.
“We pray for God’s gift of healing and reconciliation in Newtown and its surrounding communities. We pray also that the people of our two nations discover a rebirth of love and a renewed appreciation for the gift and value of each human life and every human family,” he added.