Before being called to lead the Baltimore Archdiocese, for 10 years, ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM LORI was bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. Within the Bridgeport Diocese is St. Rose of Lima Church, the only Catholic church in Newtown and the parish of several families who lost children in the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14.
After returning to Baltimore from a trip to Rome, on the day before the first funerals were held at the parish, Archbishop Lori, who is also supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, spoke with staff writer Joseph Pronechen about the tragedy and offered his guidance for everyone affected nationally and internationally.
Would you please share with us your thoughts when you heard of the horrible events?
First, it’s obviously something that hits home and is close to me in a very personal way because of the years I spent in Fairfield County. St. Rose of Lima is one of the fine parishes in the Diocese of Bridgeport … a community that I knew and loved and often visited. So, in the first instance, my heart and prayers simply go out to grieving families who lost their child and to the families of the educators. I simply find myself praying for them and their healing and for peace of mind and heart. And, indeed, praying for the whole parish and the whole community.
So many people were affected by this tragedy, not just in the town, but across the country. Near or far, what’s the first way people should respond?
The first way to respond is prayer. It seems to me that even those who perhaps don’t practice their faith regularly instinctively turn to prayer in times of sadness and tragedy. People were flocking to church over the weekend, and I’m sure in the days to come will be seeking guidance and comfort, but most of all praying for the grieving families. The greatest solidarity we can show for those who are so sad and so wounded is simply by lifting them up to the Lord and asking the Lord to bless them.
Along with our continuing prayers, what should we also realize and do in a situation like this?
Perhaps the important thing is that we understand that the Lord is near to us, not only in our joys, but also in our sadness, our disappointment and our tragedies. The Lord has shared our humanity completely, but also with a love that is stronger than our tragedies. So, when we come to pray to the Lord, it’s not only someone who understands us, but someone who loves us in a way that bridges our most tragic and heartrending moments.
Christmas is a time for families to come together. But, in a very special way this year, children need their parents. They need to know they’re loved by their parents. They need a hug from their mom and dad. They need to know their home is a place of security, of truth and of love and peace.
The primacy of the family — its centrality — is certainly very, very clear during these days. But it should be important all the time. It actually is important all the time.
Secondly, we have to look at the culture of violence and the culture we’re living in, the way human life has been cheapened in so many ways. Entertainment has become so realistically and pervasively violent. And we have to look at the ready availability of weapons designed to be used on the battlefield and by law enforcement. We have to ask hard questions these days.
What do you see as the underlying cause?
The underlying cause for all of the above is the growing lack of respect for human life, and it is that value that we have to recapture in our culture — the transcendent dignity of the human person. It’s a sense of living for the common good. It’s a sense of solidarity.
This is a moment to rediscover the importance of what the Church is teaching about what some people refer to as intermediary institutions, like the family, the Church, the parishes that play such a vital role in human life. We see that role now as people turn to their church community, their school community, their family. It’s important we recognize the values of these smaller structures in our lives all the time.
So, in a word, we have to replace this culture of violence and death with a civilization of love.
Thinking of this culture and the loss of these beautiful children, we can’t help but remember how many children are lost through abortion and contraception. Is it okay to think about that in this time of tragedy?
Certainly I think it is always appropriate to defend innocent life. It is always appropriate to say we hold as a fundamental teaching the respect for human life from the moment of conception through every one of its phases, through natural death. And it is our love of human life from its first moment that wants us to cherish life in all its stages, from conception to when people grow old and frail.
It’s important to say human life should always be cherished and cared for because it is a gift from God. When our culture once again begins to recognize life is a gift from God, then a culture of respect and a civilization of love will begin to take root.
One woman exiting St. Rose of Lima Church said she was not a practicing Catholic, yet she realized there was no other place but the Church to turn to at this time. What should people realize now about the importance of the Church for them?
First of all, we go to church because we need to be in touch with the Lord, open our hearts to the Lord in prayer and ask him for his light and strength. We need to find in the Lord the source of compassion with those who are hurting. We need to be with our fellow believers … one in faith, one in love.
Churches help in a practical way as well. Churches often provide pastoral counseling. Catholic Charities provides grief counseling. The teaching and instruction of the Church is so important. Take a look at what a wonderful priest like Msgr. [Robert] Weiss is doing at St. Rose’s: how he’s reaching out to the families and, of course, the love and care with which he will do the funerals. Really, it’s our faith in action.
Considering the time of the year when the tragedy happened, do you have any final words of comfort and advice for us?
We’re talking about this right before Christmas. I think we recognize at Christmas the Son of God became one of us. He was a baby. He was a child growing up. He really shared our humanity. So this year, as we kneel before the Christ Child, how ardently we should pray for those families grieving the death of their little ones and entrust them to the Christ Child.
How poignant this year will be the feast of the Holy Innocents, who lost their lives through brutality. So we think of these children as Holy Innocents as well.