Little Olivia Engel was one of the victims in Friday’s horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church there, told Reuters the 6 -year-old was to have been an angel in the church’s live Nativity that night.
“Now she’s an angel up in heaven,” he told the British news agency. The Litchfield County Times carried an account of his remarks. The church is in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., and videos of other interviews the priest has given were just posted on its website.
The Nativity play was canceled Friday night, and a special evening Mass was celebrated. The church remained open all night for prayer. This morning news media reported that people were flocking to the church for the parish’s four Sunday Masses, seeking solace in the aftermath of the violence, which left 20 children and seven adults dead.
Police officials identified the gunman as Adam Lanza, 20, and said he killed himself as first responders arrived on the scene.
“Let us come together to pray for and support the families directly affected by today’s events, as well as the Newtown community at large,” said a statement posted Friday on the St. Rose parish website. “As a parish community and family, we ask that you all join in prayer at the Masses this weekend. Let us bring our sorrows to the foot of the cross and the Holy Mass together as a family. God bless you.”
The Nativity play went on as scheduled last night, but religious education classes were canceled for today.
The elementary school is in the north Danbury area of the Bridgeport Diocese. Brian Wallace, diocesan director of communications, told Catholic News Service Friday that Msgr. Weiss was at the school almost immediately. When the enormity of the tragedy began to unfold, he said, other priests, chaplains and Catholic Charities personnel “were on the ground.”
In a statement released late Friday evening, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the shooting “wrenches the hearts of all people” and the “tragedy of innocent people dying through violence shatters the peace of all.”
“At this time, we pledge especially our prayerful support to the Diocese of Bridgeport and the community of Newtown as they cope with this almost unbearable sorrow,” he said. “We pray that the peace that passes understanding be with them as they deal with the injuries they have sustained and with the deaths of their beautiful children.”
“Once again we speak against the culture of violence infecting our country even as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace at Christmas,” Cardinal Dolan said in his statement. “All of us are called to work for peace in our homes, our streets and our world, now more than ever. In the shadow of this shooting, may we know that God’s sacrificial love sustains us and may those pained so deeply by this tragedy experience that care in their own hearts.”
Bridgeport’s homepage also includes several other messages, including one from Pope Benedict XVI, sent by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state.
He conveyed the pope’s “heartfelt grief and the assurance of this closeness in prayer to the victims and their families, and to all affected by the shocking event.”
“In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, he asks God, our Father, to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love,” Cardinal Bertone said.
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who was Bridgeport’s bishop from 2001 until he was named to Baltimore in March, said he was “profoundly saddened by this terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to the parents who lost their children and to a grieving community. I will continue to pray for all those affected by this unspeakable event, and I remember in a special way St. Rose of Lima Parish which I visited so often and remember with deep love and respect.”
In a statement posted this morning, Mgr. Jerald A. Doyle, administrator of the Bridgeport Diocese, said: “On this Gaudete Sunday we realize how quickly our joy can be turned to sorrow and how our faith can be challenged.
“On behalf of the clergy, religious and all the faithful of the Diocese of Bridgeport I extend my prayers and condolences to the families of the victims. … Our concern and support go out to the whole community of Newtown as you try to assist and support one another, especially those who were directly impacted.”
“I assure you that the diocese is ready and willing to make available whatever resources it can to assist those affected by this tragedy, including counselors from Catholic Charities,” he continued. “As we continue our journey toward the Christmas feast, may our hope for the peace and comfort of the divine Savior, be a true source of assurance of his loving presence in our lives.”