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Instead Of Celebration, Christmas A Time For Solace In Newtown

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In Newtown, Conn., Christmas is very different this year, a little more than a week after the shooting at an elementary school. Eight families that attend St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church lost children to the tragedy. Parishioners came to Christmas masses there seeking solace, and priests gave a message of hope and comfort.


And today, in Newtown, Connecticut, people came together to pray.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hail, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou...

SIEGEL: It's less than two weeks since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. In a season when people normally celebrate, Newtown is searching for solace. Mark Herz of member station WSHU visited one Catholic Church where parishioners have been especially hard hit by the violence.

MARK HERZ, BYLINE: St. Rose of Lima Church held the last of a sad series of funerals this past weekend. Eight of the church's families lost children in the shooting at the school where 20 students and six staff were killed. At the 7:30 mass this morning, Father Ignacio Ortigas told his parishioners he remembered that day when words could not console anybody, a dark day, he said. Then, he reminded them of the words on a large banner over the entrance to the church, a banner that showed a dark night with one star beaming its light upon a manger.

FATHER IGNACIO ORTIGAS: Jesus reminds us today, he says, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

HERZ: Outside St. Rose of Lima, a memorial much like others here in town holds a crowd of teddy bears, toys and cards. Newtown is just far enough north in Connecticut to have gotten a sprinkling of snow last night. It seemed like a bit of benediction for Mark Janetino(ph). He stopped by the memorial on his way to a mass with his wife Carrie and young daughter, Sadie.

MARK JANETINO: Just walking up to this memorial here, we were here a few days ago and saw it for the first time, both broke down into tears. And now to see it again with just this sort of light covering of snow on top of the toys and the flowers and stuff like that, I mean, there's something very heartbreaking about it, but there's also, I think, something really peaceful about that.

Maybe the snow wasn't an accident for Christmas morning here. And so, I'm going to choose to take comfort in that.

HERZ: Janetino is a Newtown native who lives in Wisconsin now. He and his wife say it was hard to be far away from here in the aftermath of the tragedy. Still, for Carrie Janetino, it was also troubling to be in Newtown now.

CARRIE JANETINO: It still doesn't feel like Christmas. I don't know. I mean, I think the community's done a great job of still trying to keep the holiday spirit, but it just doesn't - it's very surreal to look at all the memorials still out and think that, you know, this is normally a time we'd be celebrating. It just doesn't feel the same, especially thinking about all those little kids that aren't gonna get to celebrate this year.

HERZ: At the first morning mass, Father Ortigas offered what he said was a vision of those laid little kids.

ORTIGAS: And today, I can just imagine the joy of those angels, of those little ones, as they gather around Jesus, as they celebrate their Christmas in Heaven. We are sad they are not with us, but they are in the best place that they could ever be, with Jesus himself.

HERZ: Angels are an ever present image here as you walk through town. There are angels on storefronts, hanging from trees and on highway signs. So, maybe one of the ever present Christmas hymns held special meaning for the St. Rose of Lima worshippers this morning at the Mass that started in near darkness and ended with the sun beginning to break through the clouds. For NPR News, I'm Mark Herz in Connecticut.

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