As hundreds gathered at Canton High School Sunday evening, town and religious leaders acknowledged they had no explanation for the tragic events in Newtown, but still felt it important to gather, pray for those suffering and turn to their own families and children for comfort.
“We’re in shock and disbelief as to what has happened,” said The Rev. Jim Wheeler of Collinsville Congregational Church. “This didn’t happen somewhere else . . . It happened in our own back yard. It happened to children and our hearts are broken.”
The vigil, titled Sand Hook Service of Remembrance, took place at Canton High School Sunday and featured remarks, readings and/or prayers from Wheeler, the Rev. Linda Spiers of Trinity Episcopal, and the Rev. John McHugh of St. Patrick, Rabbi Mendel Samuels of Chabad of the Valley, Khamis Abu-Hasaballah of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford in Berlin, First Selectman Richard Barlow and Board of Education chairwoman Leslee Hill.
The crowd also recited Psalm 23 and a “Prayer of Commitment.” The Canton High School Chamber Singers performed and Larry Hall played a stirring rendition of “The Prayer" on soprano saxophone.
Many speakers prayed for the deceased, their families, first responders and Newtown as a whole.
Time and again, the speakers said the death of so many children made it especially hard and several fought back tears as they spoke.
“We hold each child and adults in our hearts. We can’t even begin to fathom what happened,” Spiers said. “Yet we hold on to hope that life has not ended but only changed. It is only on their tiny shoulders that you and I can stand and ask for God’s help in making all things new.”
Samuels also urged those in attendance to keep a measure of hope in their sorrow.
“I think the only thing we can do is what we’re doing here tonight,” he said. “So we gather together and pray. We pray for a world where something like this is even possible but we never lose hope.”
Hill said the town gathered as a family and in addition to her prayers and condolences and also told the youth in the audience that they were the ones who would ultimately bring some comfort to the community.
“To the young people here tonight please know from the bottom of the hearts of the adults around you that we love you beyond reason,” Hill said. “Your smiles, your laughter, your silliness, your boundless energy is what soothes the adults around you more than anything possibly could."