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placeholder January 7, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA

Pupils from St. Jarlath School became the choir for the Mass of Rememberance.
All: Cindy Chew/The Catholic Voice

A Mass of Remembrance for victims of school violence

"Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel," sang the 14 young voices, breaking the silence inside the Cathedral of Christ the Light before a Dec. 19 noontime Mass of Remembrance for the victims of the shooting five days before at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Principal Rodney Pierre-Antoine had gathered students from the classrooms at St. Jarlath School in Oakland to become the choir.

To the right of the altar, beside the statue of the Christ child safe in the arms of His mother Mary, stood a wreath, much like a Christmas wreath with greens and pine cones. On this wreath, however, were scattered 27 white roses, one for each of the people being remembered at this Mass. A three-strand ribbon, printed with the words Sandy Hook Elementary, completed the sad circle.

Archbishop Alex J. Brunett, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Oakland, celebrated the Mass, providing an opportunity for people in the Diocese of Oakland, including children from the diocesan schools, to come together as a community in prayer. Among the concelebrants was Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins.

"With a heavy heart but a loving heart, I welcome you here today," Archbishop Brunett told the gathering, which included principals, teachers and students from throughout the diocese. In his opening prayer, he encouraged those present to "cherish the gift of life" and to "learn from these events how important the gift of life is."

Among those hearing his words were Sister Barbara Flannery, CSJ, principal of St. Anthony School in Oakland, who attended the Mass with two eighth-graders, Nam Dinh and Noah Mehreteab. "We came to represent our school and give respect to the people who died in Newtown, Connecticut," Noah said quietly after Mass.

Cecilia Bell, an eighth-grader, representing the School of the Madeleine in Berkeley, attended with her mother, Joan Bell, and vice principal Heather Skinner. Cecilia was honored to be chosen to be one of the students to bring the gifts to the altar.

Later, in his homily, the archbishop said, "We are here today to find perspective, find a way out of our sorrow."

Among the lessons to be learned, he said, was "how we need to take hold of life — right now, today."

Of the victims, he said, "God loved them infinitely."

"We give them back to you, oh Lord, as you gave them to us," he said. "Life is unending because love is undying."

At the end of Mass, students from Corpus Christi School in Piedmont carried the wreath from the Cathedral, leading a procession to the plaza.

There, Superintendent Sister Barbara Bray, SNJM, and Pierre-Antoine took turns reading the names of the 27 victims. Archbishop Brunett blessed the wreath and led prayers.

Those 14 little voices broke through the silence once again, their song ending: "Sleep in heavenly peace."

Excerpts from Archbishop Brunett's homily on Dec. 19

• "For many, our hearts are heavy and our minds are searching for answers. It's so hard to get over the past and to find new hope for the future. We curse the darkness that surrounds us. We are here today to put things in perspective, to find a way out of our sorrow, to open our eyes and hearts to hope and grasp the sacredness and the meaning of life.

• "At every funeral or memorial service that I have attended, death is such an overwhelmingly powerful experience that it opens us to the deepest, most challenging ideas, questions and convictions about life — and especially about our own individual lives, our dreams and purposes and ideals and hopes. For many of us the only time these questions surface is at the time of death.

• "Each of our lives is about that journey of faith, finding direction and purpose. It's about discovering the meaning and promise of new life. It's about God's forgiving love coming down in the midst of it all: marriage and birth, old-age and nursing homes, anxieties, problems, illness, death. It's about God working to redeem every area of our individual lives; all that this chaotic world presents to us.

• "I hope that as we leave this Cathedral shortly, to remember them does not mean simply telling their story over and over again, nor does it even mean constantly thinking about them. No! It means making them a participant in God's ongoing work of redemption by allowing them to dispel in us a little more of our own darkness and lead us a little closer to the star … the light. By letting them go, we do not lose them. Rather, we find that they are closer to us than ever. In and through the Spirit of Christ, they indeed become part of our very being."

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