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Christmas In Newtown: Grief And Love Mingle

Roman CatholicismChristianitySeptember 11, 2001 AttacksBob WeissSandy Hook Elementary School

For there are these three things that endure: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

In Newtown on Christmas Day, love and grief were mingled. At St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, hundreds of families filed into Mass, white-haired couples, a little girl with sparkly pink shoes holding her father's hand, teens with their heads bowed as they texted the last few lines before entering unter the banner that read:

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

"We have not only witnessed one of the greatest tragedies in the world, but we as a community are called to do what we can to move forward," Monsignor Bob Weiss wrote in his Christmas message. "I have been asked so often how do we celebrate Christmas this year."

Frank Skrelja, who attended Mass at St. Rose, found the holy day both painful and a balm to his spirit.

"We celebrate the birth of a baby," Skrelja said, and that reminds him of the 20 first-graders murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School just 11 days earlier. "They were babies." He thinks of how their parents struggled on this first Christmas without them. "There's really no words."

Skrelja has twin 13-year-old sons, and he moved to Newtown five years ago from Yonkers, N.Y. He also said: "It was comforting because we gathered together, the community, and you feel like you're not alone."

Many people chatted with fellow parishioners after the service, giving warm hugs, and heartfelt partings of "God Bless You."

God is with you all the time. I hope you feel better, Love, Daniella (age 8)

Cooper Carlile, 10, set down Daniella's card, with a smiling angel on its cover, at the memorial in front of the Catholic church. Cooper comes to Connecticut most years at Christmas to visit his uncle Bill Gasdaska. Gasdaska wiped away tears as Cooper tucked dozens of homemade cards under stuffed animals, so they wouldn't blow away.

Cooper, who attends a Catholic school in Houston, suggested to his school's principal that the children make cards for the grieving town.

His mother, Jane Gasdaska, said that usually when you think of 10-year-old boys, you think of "how many times they can say the word poop," and she was a little surprised that her son wanted to make this gesture, and so proud that he followed through.

His own card urged everyone to keep love, and guard against hatred. He explained that it's a mistake to drown in self-hatred, or to be angry at the man who did the killing. "You just have to pray," he said.

Christmas felt different this year, his mother said, more patient, more grateful.

She said that the family brought the cards from Texas because "we just wanted people here to know everywhere, we ache for them."

You are loved. Megan, Aberdeen, NJ — one of the 50,000 texts from teens, displayed on a "Stay Strong Newtown" banner posted on the bridge over the Pootatuck River in Sandy Hook

Hundreds of people slowly wandered by the stuffed animals, signs, Christmas trees, candles and homemade art in the heart of Sandy Hook all morning and afternoon. A handful were locals. More were from New York, other towns in Connecticut, and points beyond. They took pictures with cellphones, iPads and SLR cameras. Some wept. Some spoke to each other in Spanish — pointing out that all the teachers were represented with ornaments on one tree. Others reflected on what they'd seen in Hebrew.

Joyce Bondos of Ansonia said she came to Newtown on Christmas because it was the first day she felt mentally ready to face the loss so directly.

But she said the timing was meaningful.

"This is a gift to all of them," she said, looking down at a stuffed bear with a patch of snow covering his button eyes. "Love. That's what Christmas is. Giving back."

Police officers from throughout the state gave back to the Newtown Police Department on Christmas, so the local officers could have the day off. (Local dispatchers were still at work.) Five departments were represented on the day shift alone.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just like I have loved you. ... By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34–35

About 15 people from Baltimore, who speak out against gun violence in their city under the motto "A Mother's Cry," made the pilgrimage to Newtown.

One of them, Denise Rucker, read aloud from the Book of Psalms as she stood in front of a shrine to the victims.

"Things we have made monumental in this country seem so small in times like this," she said, when all that really matters is "life and love. And you can put an amen on the end of that."

Love will see us through. – poster in a shop window in Sandy Hook

Javed Rahman and Leslie Wang don't observe Christmas, but Rahman said they decided to drive up from New Jersey to see the memorials Tuesday because it is a special day.

"I woke up and was thinking about those parents, how they feel," Rahman said. Their daughter, who is not quite 6, was with them, although she doesn't know the scope of what happened.

They're raising her in Hong Kong, where they saw the news on TV on Friday. They had already planned a visit back to their former home in New Jersey to see friends.

Rahman, who lived in West Hartford in the late 1990s, when he worked for The Hartford in Simsbury, said he finds the National Rifle Association's prescription of armed guards in every school bewildering.

Wang agreed, noting that in Hong Kong, not even the police are armed.

Rahman, who spent more than half his life in America, and Wang, who worked near the World Trade Center on 9/11, said they were moved by the outpouring of support for Newtown.

"It reflects how compassionate people are toward each other," Wang said. "That's the beauty of this country."

Wang said the same thing happened in New York when the terrorists struck. "People could show their best after those crises. After those times, people could really come together, and be strong."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Roman CatholicismChristianitySeptember 11, 2001 AttacksBob WeissSandy Hook Elementary School
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