Religious women support teenagers grieving after shooting

Newtown, Conn., Dec 18, 2012 / 12:04 pm (CNA).- Consecrated women from a religious community in Connecticut are offering prayers, counseling and support to high school students following a mass shooting in their town.

“Only God can give them the hope that they need to heal,” said Florencia Silva, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.

Silva told CNA that she was one of three consecrated lay women from the Marian Community of Reconciliation who was asked to attend a Dec. 17 youth group meeting at St. Rose of Lima parish in Newtown, Conn., along with clergy, other consecrated laity and counselors.

The meeting was intended to help the members of the close-knit community reeling from a tragic shooting in their small town.

On the morning of Dec. 14, a gunman identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire on students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School after killing his mother at her house.

The gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the school before taking his own life.

St. Rose of Lima parish, which includes some 2000 families, regularly sees between 60 and 100 young people – largely high school students – show up for youth group meetings.

Silva said that she and her religious sisters intend to support the teenagers by praying with them and for them, as well as being present and available if they would like to talk.

She explained that members of the religious community have already visited diocesan high schools in the region, organizing a Mass and making themselves available to listen to the students as they process the experience.

The students reacted positively, saying that the Mass helped them to heal, she said, adding that many of them are also experiencing deep feelings of grief and fear.

“Those are normal reactions,” she said. “I think we are all very sad.”

Silva said she hopes to help the students through these struggles while aiding them in realizing that God is always present, even in the midst of tragedy.

She pointed to one child who recalled seeing God’s presence in the loving and heroic actions of a teacher protecting a class full of students during the shooting.

“God is always there,” she said.

Emphasizing that prayers are real and efficacious, Silva is asking people to pray for those who died in the shooting, including Lanza.

While she acknowledged that forgiveness is not always easy, she stressed that it is a choice, made out of love, even when one is still struggling with strong emotions.

“It’s going to take time for the people to heal, for all of us to heal,” she said.

Julie Rogers, another member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, said that she hopes to show the grieving teenagers at the youth group that “they’re not alone.”

Newtown is a “tight-knit community,” she observed, and its members need to see that they are being supported with love and prayers.

“First and foremost, they need to know that God is with them,” she said. “He is not a distant God. He is present in their sufferings.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary is also present and “knows what it is like to lose a child,” she explained.

In addition, Rogers hopes to remind those who are suffering from the tragedy that the Christian response is “a response of hope” because it is centered on the Resurrection.

The Christian message is one of forgiveness, not vengeance, she added, and so they are praying for Lanza as well.

During this time of grief, it is important to recognize that human beings alone cannot make sense out of this tragic situation, Rogers stressed.

“This is a time to turn to God,” she said.

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