After the tragic shooting Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left more than 20 people dead and injured, religious communities of Southern Connecticut are responding with prayer, vigils and spiritual counseling for victims' friends and families and those affected.
A little more than a mile away from the school, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church will hold a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. Thursday for families and victims. The church will be open all night for prayer.
"We offer our prayers and our collective sense of grief, shock and loss," said Msgr. Jerald A. Doyle, administrator of the Diocese of Bridgeport, which oversees St. Rose of Lima and other Newtown Catholic churches, in a statement. Doyle said that priests from the diocese, including those from St. Rose, had been dispatched to the scene after the shooting to minister to children and families.
"Other priests and chaplains have since joined them in ministering to the families at the school, hospitals and other settings. Representatives from Catholic Charities counseling services are also working with families and will continue to do so in the coming days and weeks," said Doyle, who urged Catholics to come together in prayer.
Connections Church, a nondenominational congregation that's 2 miles from the school, is also holding a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. Friday in Newtown's town hall, where it usually meets for services.
"I had one person from our church whose son was in the school, but thankfully he is not hurt," said Pastor Rocky Veach, whose church has 75 members. "In times like these, there's no really good answer. Words really don't express enough. Our approach is just that you have to show people love. You have to be there for them and be understanding, even though nobody besides the victims can really understand what they are going through."
"Instead of talking so much about Jesus, in this setting we have to try to be like him," said Veach.
About 30 minutes from Newtown in Ridgefield, Conn., Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said his congregation at Temple Shearith Israel will dedicate memorial prayers Friday night to victims.
"Right now, we pray for healing. Healing of those families who lost loved ones and those who lost children. And we pray for healing in our world of these kinds of tragedies," he said. "Our memorial tonight will be for all of those who are lost, to remember them, but it is also Hanukkah, and we will light a menorah. It's a symbol of light and hope for the future."
The horrific shooting also attracted the attention of religious leaders and churches far from the site of the shooting. Many pastors and others took to Twitter on Tuesday to call for prayer, including clergy from Seattle to Florida. They used the hashtag "#PrayForNewtown" on Twitter and a misspelled variation of it, "#PrayForNewton." In many regions, pastors and religious leaders also announced that Sunday services would be dedicated to prayer for Newtown.
In his remarks addressing the shooting, President Barack Obama alluded Psalm 147:3. "May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds," Obama said.
In Washington, D.C., the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, said he would preach about Newtown at two services Sunday and call on the nation to "address gun violence."
"The horrific shooting of children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut, is a tragedy that elicits both our grief and our moral outrage on behalf of the victims and their families," Hall said in a statement. "In a political climate unwilling to address the realities of gun violence in America, a wide range of faith traditions, including the Episcopal Church, has strongly advocated gun control for several decades. Washington National Cathedral pledges to pray for the victims, their families, the assailant, and the survivors."
UPDATE: 6:04 p.m. -- Episcopal bishops in Connecticut released a statement Friday afternoon offering their prayers and services to victims and inviting "all clergy to open our churches for prayer."
"We bishops have been in touch with the Rev. Mark Moore, the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sandy Hook, which is adjacent to the school where the shooting took place. We have also communicated with the leadership of Trinity Church, Newtown, and we understand that the Rev. Kathie Adams-Shepherd, rector of Trinity Church is on the scene ministering to the bereaved," said the statement from the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, the Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens and the Rt. Rev. James E. Curry.
"Please keep all who have died, the one who has perpetrated the shooting, and all affected by this incident in your prayers. May the God who we await this Advent season bring us hope and new life in Jesus the Christ."