NEWTOWN, Conn. (CNS) – Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, was at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost immediately after the horrific shooting Dec. 14.
When the enormity of the tragedy began to unfold, other priests, chaplains and Catholic Charities personnel “were on the ground,” Brian Wallace, diocesan director of communications, told Catholic News Service.
In the days since, St. Rose of Lima has taken center stage as people gathered for a prayer vigil the night of the shootings and flocked to Sunday Masses seeking solace. They looked to Msgr. Weiss and his staff and other Catholic leaders for pastoral outreach in the aftermath of the violence, which left 20 children and seven adults dead.
Eighteen children died at the school, and two others died after they had been rushed to the hospital. All of the children were first-graders. The adults included the principal and five teachers, as well as the gunman.
Police officials identified the shooter as Adam Lanza, 20, and said he killed himself as first responders arrived on the scene.
“There are no words,” Msgr. Weiss told a TV reporter in an interview for NBC’s “Today” show after spending hours helping law enforcement officials inform parents that their child had died in the shooting. At least eight of the children belonged to the parish and will be buried from St. Rose.
Msgr. Weiss said many of the family members thanked him for his presence. “There was a lot of hugging, a lot of crying, a lot of praying, a lot of just being silent,” he said, adding that at the previous evening’s vigil, community members “came together to care and to support. … People really care here and hopefully we can just keep the community together and they can console each other.”
The priest, along with Lutheran, Episcopal, Jewish, Congregationalist, Methodist, Baha’i and Muslim leaders, participated in an interfaith service Dec. 16 at a Newtown auditorium.
President Barack Obama addressed the gathering after meeting separately with each family who lost someone in the shooting. He expressed the nation’s support as they face their grief and bury their dead.
Obama pledged in the coming weeks to “use whatever power” his office holds “to engage my fellow citizens – from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators – in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.
In a Dec. 16 statement, Msgr. 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.”