By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published December 20, 2012
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and other clergy and educators in the archdiocese responded with prayer and support to the deadly shooting attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14. Archbishop Gregory called for prayers for the victims and their families in the aftermath of the tragic assault that killed 20 children at the school, their principal, and five others on the staff.
“Today we must include in our prayers the families and parents of the children and adults who lost their lives in Friday’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut,” the archbishop said before celebrating the family Mass on Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
“We ask that the Father, who chose to give us His Son born as a poor Infant in Bethlehem, will also give those people comfort, solace, and faith at this time of incredible sorrow. We pray for our nation that once again has been stunned by senseless violence that it will resolve to take those steps that will safeguard all of us in the future so that the respect and dignity of each person—no matter what their age or circumstance will be secured.”
Archbishop Gregory asked that flags at Catholic parishes, schools and missions fly at half-staff through sunset on Friday, Dec. 21, “to mourn the victims.”
Archbishop Gregory also wanted to affirm that Catholic schools in the archdiocese were taking the appropriate measures to protect their students as well.
“As we offer our heartfelt prayers for the families and parents of those killed in Newtown and all victims of senseless violence, I wanted to let you know that the Archdiocesan Schools Office has activated our crisis management plan at all of our schools. Counselors will be available for students, parents and staff,” he wrote in a memo to parishes and staff.
The crisis management plan is multifaceted, added Diane Starkovich, archdiocesan superintendent of schools. Resources and information have been made available to parents and teachers to help them discuss what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary with students and children. Also, additional counseling resources have been made available for schools that feel they need it.
Starkovich said that archdiocesan schools routinely practice safety measures, including procedures for intruders and lockdowns, among many other scenarios.
“Our schools have routinely taken this seriously,” she said.
“We have taken the next level of security,” in light of the events in Newtown, she added. “There have been no threats, but, of course, we want to be safe.”
Starkovich also said that law enforcement in several metro Atlanta counties have made themselves more visible, driving through school campuses to show an increased presence since last Friday.
In addition, many schools have planned Masses and prayer services with a focus on the victims and their families.
“We are praying and that is important,” said Starkovich.
“Now is not the time to lay blame,” wrote LaSalette Father Tom Reilly, pastor of St. Ann Church, Marietta, in a letter to his parishioners. “Now is the time to begin a process of determining what we can do to insure nothing like this ever happens again. Now is the time to hold all the victims and their families in our hearts and in our prayers. Now is the time to find some tangible way we can let those families know that we love them and care for them and grieve with them because we are all part of God’s family.”
The priest said that he had been unable to sleep the night of Dec. 14 after watching the reports on the massacre of the children and school staff. He told the parishioners he got up and prayed intently for all those who died, for their families and for the perpetrator.
He ended the letter saying the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass on Dec. 23 would be celebrated for the Newtown victims and families and he would at that time describe “an act of kindness” the parish could embark on to show how deeply St. Ann’s cares for the families.