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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Vigil for Victims Draws Hundreds

By James Lomuscio

It was not just the number of the victims murdered. Nor their names. It was the ages of most that cast a huge pall over the standing-room-only prayer vigil in Westport Town Hall’s auditorium today.

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Real candles were used for the vigil in the rain on Veterans Green while battery-operated candles were distributed to those inside the Westport Town Hall auditorium. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

“Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7,” the litany began, naming all 26 gunned down at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School by suspected shooter Adam Lanza, 20, who then turned the gun on himself. A total of 28 died that day, including the shooter’s mother shot multiple times by her son before his rampage began.

The Rev. Debra Hafner of the Religious Institute connected with Westport’s Unitarian Church, and the Rev. Kelly H. Rogers, associate minister of Weston’s Norfield Congregational Church, read the names of the 20 children and six teachers and staff who were murdered.

“As a clergy member and as a mom, it was important that we heard the names of the victims and not just the murderer,” Hafner said.

Hafner was one of 12 members of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston who participated in the service, all of them looking to God for answers to the unspeakable that traumatized not only nearby Newtown, the state and the nation, but the world.

Westport’s service was one of numerous prayer vigils today, including an evening one in Newtown attended by President Obama, and one held earlier in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI.

“This is a sad occasion,” First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said that the service’s start. “When I was a child at the Coleytown Elementary School, we had a duck and cover drill for fear of a Soviet nuclear attack ... Now we have this. It’s something hard to believe.”

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One of the readings tonight at the Westport Town Hall and Veterans Green vigils. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

Joseloff noted that the Newtown Savings Bank was accepting monetary donations for the victims’ families, adding that he would try to have the townspeople contribute collectively.

Despite the tragedy, Joseloff said he felt encouraged by the number of people in attendance, calling it “warming to me.”

In addition to the packed auditorium, Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas said another 300 were in the Town Hall entryway.

Some of them crossed Myrtle Avenue and, with the help of Rabbi Rabbi Alysa Mendelson Graf of Temple Israel, began a second vigil, later joined by other clergy when the first service concluded.

Originally, the vigil, replete with battery powered candles handed out to those who came, had been planned for the Green before the rain increased.

“We’re here to mourn, to comfort one another and to show solidarity with Newtown only 15 miles away,” said Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.

“What can you say when children who never reached their double digits and their teachers are murdered? All we can do is offer our hearts.”

Rabbi Robert Orkand of Temple Israel began by reading an adaptation of an Elie Wiesel poem on silence.

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State Sen Toni Boucher makes her way home after the rain-soaked Veterans Green candlelight vigil. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

“We begin with silence, the silence of death, the silence of life, the silence after tragedy, the silence after creation,” Orkand read. “There are times when songs falter, when darkness fills life.”

Singing, however, was on the agenda, beginning with the Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton, senior pastor, Saugatuck Congregational Church, who got the audience to join her in singing “Peace Be Still.”

Later, the Rev. Bernard R. Wilson, senior minister at Weston’s Norfield Congregational Church, started off by singing “God Bless America,” and later prayed to the Holy Spirit to “give us the courage to end this violence.”

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, Weston and Wilton and chairman of the Interfaith Clergy Association, cited a Jewish saying that no matter the tragedy, “we will not stop singing.” Then, just as Wilson did before, he got the audience to sing “God Bless America.”

“May we never stop singing,” Wiederhorn said.


Posted 12/16/12 at 11:36 PM


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