So, how many GetReligion readers will be able to forget watching the Robbie Parker press conference, accompanied by the image of his blue-eyed, angelic lost daughter Emilie?
Not me, that’s for sure.
I was struck by his early reference to the gifts given to her by “her Heavenly Father” and, while that is very standard Christian language, the minute the network aired a picture of the young family, with it’s three young daughters, I immediately wondered if they were Mormons. I, for one, have not seen a clear reference on that point, but the fund in memory of Emilie Parker is based in Ogden, Utah. Also, did anyone else note the poignant reference to his final chat with his daughter?
One parent who lost a child, Robbie Parker, spoke to reporters Saturday evening. He expressed sympathy for Lanza’s family, saying, “I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you.”
Parker said that Emilie, the daughter he lost, was blond and blue-eyed and could light up a room. “All those who had the pleasure to meet her would agree that the world was better because she was in it,” Parker said. He recalled the last time he saw Emilie, on Friday morning as he headed to work. He had been teaching her Portuguese, and so their last conversation was in that language.
“She said that she loved me, and she gave me a kiss and I was out the door,” said Parker, whose family moved to Newtown eight months ago. “I’m so blessed to be her dad.”
One wonders why this young medical worker had learned Portuguese. There could be a missionary link in there, somewhere.
But never mind, as in many reports on his remarkably graceful press conference, the faith content and language vanished in the Post copy. One can only ask why.
The memorial rites and funerals will, of course, contain plenty of religious images and passages, with a heavy emphasis on issues of theodicy. This is well and good. I’m writing on an issue related to that myself, this week, for Scripps Howard.
While many have mentioned the close-knit clergy of this community, I keep waiting for evidence that this is more than a mainline Protestant, Jewish and Catholic town. Has anyone seen evidence of those serving evangelical, Mormon or Pentecostal believers?
The New York Times and Washington Post each offered clergy stories, which, together, gave readers a kind of “so a rabbi and a priest walk into hell” scenario. The top of the Times piece appears to be an eyewitness report from a reporter standing silently on the edge of a quiet room in the funeral home:
It was early Sunday, the first time that Veronique Pozner had seen the boy’s body since he was shot to death in his first-grade classroom two days before. A sheet covered his body up to his neck, and a social worker had urged Ms. Pozner not to remove it. She obliged, but began to wail, alternately telling her son to leave this “dark, horrible world,” and beseeching him to come back.
Rabbi Praver began to speak softly. He told her that though Noah had physically left this world, he was not lost to them because his soul lived on. He asked her if she remembered her 6-year-old self and when she said she did, he told her that “when we become adults, our 5- and 6-year-olds didn’t die with us; they’re contained within a larger vessel.”
He was offering, he said, a kind of “spiritual morphine.”
And then, in the Post, there is the spiritual minefield in which Msgr. Robert Weiss has living for several days now:
The 66-year-old priest is known as Father Bob to the 3,500 families who belong to St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. On Sunday, what Father Bob craved — after long hours of counseling and grieving and not enough sleep — was a good Scotch and a place to let go. Half of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary were members of Weiss’s congregation, and he had baptized many of them.
After the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, in a rectory full of law enforcement officers and priests, Weiss wept.
Nothing at seminary had trained him for this week. Nothing about his 13 years at St. Rose. Nothing about his understanding of the world.
“I thought about Paul,” said Weiss, his black clergy shirt unbuttoned and his white collar in his shirt pocket like a pen. “Paul said, ‘In my weakness I find my greatest strength.’?”
Can we assume, in this day and age, that readers will know that “Paul” is actually St. Paul and that the priest is offering a broad paraphrase of the famous imagery in 2 Corinthians 12:9?
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
I would assume that many readers needed the missing details, but I could be wrong.
This story includes quite a few eyewitness details that I have not seen in print before, since the monsignor arrived on the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School very, very quickly with two other priests. He was there as the reunions between parents and surviving children slowed and slowed and then stopped. Try to imagine watching this scene:
Reunion after reunion whittled the lines down, leaving only parents, empty-handed and desperate. They were taken to the nearby firehouse where the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company operated.
Weiss walked over, too. He knew half the parents from St. Rose. He had officiated at their weddings and the baptisms of their children, some of whom were now unaccounted for. Inside the firehouse, parents texted relatives, called babysitters to stay late and called around to likely places where their missing children might have gone.
That room, too, was whittled down.
Soon, the parents needed a priest, right then and there:
In the room of folding chairs, time passed. Weiss felt the tension rising in equal measure to the sense of dread. Parents started coming to him with regrets.
A mother said she shouldn’t have taken her daughter’s DVD player away. “She wasn’t a bad child,” the mother told Weiss. Another mother who came to Weiss said it was her fault she sent her daughter to school that morning. She blamed herself, telling the priest she wasn’t fit to raise her other children.
About 3 p.m., Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy came into the room. The gruesome announcement was his to make: 27 people inside the school had been killed, and 20 were children. All would be taken to the medical examiner’s office.
With the news came the most raw display of human grief that Weiss had ever seen or imagined — wailing, weeping, screaming, people sinking to
the floor. …
In all those hours of counseling and comforting, no one asked the priest, “Why?” The question came later, starting on Sunday, and Weiss did not have an answer.
And that’s the end of the story. I, for one, would like to know more about what the priest said at that point.
Perhaps he truly was silent or said that he had no answer, no answer at all. I have my doubts about that. Then again, I grew up in the home of a pastor who finished his career as the chaplain in the Texas Children’s Hospital, working with the parents of young cancer patients. I know that chaplains rarely offer simple answers. But I have heard few settle for silence.