Praying and Talking About Newtown, CT

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?

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. As the DRE, I had to decide how to handle this. Our situation is a bit different because Newtown is the next town over from us. I have a second grader in our program who attends Sandy Hook Elementary School. At first I thought that we shouldn’t address it because we wanted to be conscious of the fact that each family would handle it in a different way. But then, I changed my mind. I called the catechists together and told them that we wouldn’t bring it up, but if the children had questions/concerns, etc. we would address them. I told them that we shouldn’t try to come up with answers because there are none. With the older children, we needed to discuss free will, and that every conversation needed to come back to the faith, to trust, to love, and to prayer. I agree with you – where else should be discuss this other than in our religion classes. These are the real life situations where we need to live the faith, not just learn about it. At the end, we formed a ‘circle of love’ of about 160 kids and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I told them that this circle of love, which included Jesus, was going to go to the hearts of our friends in Newtown. Around our altar we have 27 yellow roses and candles. Off to the side we have a single candle burning. One of our 8th graders asked what that candle was for. I asked him, “What do you think it is for?” He responded, “for Adam”. I asked why we would have a candle for Adam and many hands shot up. I called on one and the answer he gave me was, “forgiveness”.

  2. Just found this site – thank you for being here. I teach 8th grade church and sacraments, we’re in CT not too far from Newtown, high emotional impact in our parish, and lots of friends/relations in Newtown. We talked about the Resurrection – how Christ came to earth, shared our humanity, our pain, our loss, and then He died. And then He rose – death loses, God wins, we win. Death always loses in the final analysis, hope and love and God’s will finally triumph. They’re all on sports or other teams of some kind, so they got it, I had all eyes front. Peace.

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