Prayers, healing and consolation for Newtown

How sadly poignant that we read from the Gospel of Matthew just three days after the celebration of Christmas, commemorating the feast of the Holy Innocents, “Then was what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more'” (Matt. 2:18).

People of faith throughout the world have been mourning the deaths of the 20 children and six adults who were shot to death in Newtown, Conn., and praying for the healing of their families and for an end to such senseless violence in our world. Pope Benedict XVI offered prayers and condolences, saying, “I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer. May the God of consolation touch their hearts and ease their pain.” The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, sent a message from the Holy Father to the Diocese of Bridgeport, saying in part, “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 Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement that said in part, “Once again we speak against the culture of violence infecting our country even as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace at Christmas. 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.”

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew said, “When the pain subsides and the tears dry, then we may reflect on the reality of horror and darkness in our world. Then we must interpret for our children; but, more importantly, we must inform our society and influence politicians about how to reshape our world so that this never happens again… There are more angels in heaven today. And those closest to the sweet children and their loving teachers are surrounded by more than just our love. They can take pride in ‘such a great cloud of witnesses,’ who are now in the arms of God. May their memory be eternal!”

The Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, offered condolences and prayers for those touched by the tragedy saying, “In these difficult days we wish to say that we stand with you in spirit and that God is with you always. Last year, I was in my native Norway when a deranged gunman massacred a great many young people and adults in the capital and on a nearby island. We were all too aware that evil and death are inescapably real. But slowly came to appreciate the reality of life and love, as well. We commend all who stand in vigil with those in pain. With mourners everywhere, we cry out, ‘how long, O Lord, how long?’ And we support and pray for community and national leaders who are asking hard questions, hoping to prevent future tragedies.”

The Rev. Kathryn Lohre, president of the National Council of Churches USA, expressed her shock and grief as she shared, “As a parent, I cannot comprehend the grief other mothers and fathers are feeling right tonight. I share President Obama’s instincts to hug my child especially close tonight. And my heart breaks to know so many parents in Connecticut are no longer able to do that. But we seek comfort in our faith that our God is a God of love, and God’s heart is breaking tonight, too.” The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church USA, said, “And we pray that this latest concentration of shooting deaths in one event will awaken us to the unnoticed number of children and young people who die senselessly across this land every day. More than 2,000 children and youth die from guns each year, more than the soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Will you pray and work toward a different future, the one the Bible’s prophets dreamed of, where city streets are filled with children playing in safety (Zechariah 8:5)?”

As President Obama reminded the mourners, paraphrasing the great St. Paul, “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day. For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”

Father Joseph D. Wallace is coordinator, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.

Categories: That All May Be One

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