Last evening was my first opportunity to be with my 6th graders in the wake of the tragic massacre in Newtown, CT. I came prepared to spend some quality time touching on the subject with them and praying about it. Here is what happened:
- As I was setting up for class, one young lady arrived early as usual to help me distribute materials. She said, without provocation, “Well, I’m very upset.” I asked her about what and she responded, “about the shootings.” I told her, as we continued to go about our work, that this was natural and that I’m very upset too as are most people. I told her we would talk about it tonight and pray about it and she said “that’s good.” I thanked her for sharing her feelings with me and told her that this is a good thing to do.
- When everyone arrived, we prepared to do our opening procession to set up the prayer center and the Advent wreath. I told them that this gesture takes on special meaning in light of the tragedy that occurred in CT. Immediately 3 or 4 hands went up…they wanted to talk or ask questions. I told them to hang on to their thoughts and questions until after the prayer.
- We processed reverently around the room to the strains of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and set up the prayer center. I then told them that, in place of doing individual petitions, we would pray for those who died in the Newtown incident. We then prayerfully passed the meditation chime around until it was rung 26 times – once for each of the deceased. This was a very prayerful gesture for the kids to participate in and was a very appropriate way for them to engage in mourning.
- We then watched a video of an inspiring rendition of We Can Build a Beautiful City (Hunter Parrish) to end our prayer on a note of hope and faith.
- I opened it up for questions and immediately 5 or 6 hands went up. Some simply shared how they learned about the tragedy and how it made them feel. Some related some kind of a connection (a relative lives in the area, etc.)
- One girl said, “One teacher told us that we shouldn’t talk about this. Why not?” I explained that the teacher probably meant that it’s not good to dwell on the topic too much – to spend too much time watching TV reports and thinking about it. I said that would not be healthy and explained that even tonight, we will not spend more than 10 minutes on it because we need to move ahead with courage and that to do anything less – to give up – is to let evil win. Instead, we forge ahead, trying to “build a beautiful city” strengthened and led by God while we continue to pray for healing.
- Some of the kids then talked about the teachers who gave up their lives and how they shielded and hid students to save lives. We talked about how herioc that was.
- After about 10 minutes, I told them it was time to move on, thanked them for sharing their thoughts, told them that this is a very difficult thing for anyone to cope with but especially for children and invited them to be sure to talk to someone – parent, family member, teacher, catechist – if they continue to have strong feelings about the matter.
In all, it felt like a very appropriate way to address the issue within the confines of a catchetical session and to bring the matter to prayer and ritual without trying to turn it into a counseling session, for which I am not trained. The remainder of our class went well and I’ll share that in upcoming posts.
How did you address the Newtown incident with your students? How did you pray/ritualize with them? How did they react? What thoughts or questions did they have?