NYE #1 – From Freedom To Newtown

Marinella Bandini

What happened at the New York Encounter is more than conferences, exhibits, artistic
performances. It is not a program, it’s a living thing. It’s as surprising as life and sometimes as
shocking as life. I wasn’t there, but echoes crossed the sea… “Experiencing freedom”. What does it
mean when you are in a jail like Joshua, or when you are persecuted as a Christian (like Paul Bhatti in
Pakistan, or in Mexico as the exhibit about the Cristeros shows)? What does it mean after the
Newtown (CT) shooting in which about 30 pupils died? Or even when you are a successful executive,
like Harold Korell, chairman of the Board at Southwestern Energy in Houston, TX.

Joshua is an inmate in a North Carolina prison. Years ago he met some friends and since then he has
kept in touch with them. They belong to Communion and liberation, the catholic movement that
organized the NYE together with Crossroads cultural center. He recently wrote a l e tte r that was read
out loud on the first evening of the NYE. “… the beauty of the music was obvious, and pointed me on
to something else. This was not sentimentality. The cinder-block walls of the prison still stand. The
razor-wire still coils, snake-like, atop the perimeter fencing. The cafeteria meatloaf still possesses an
alarmingly orange tint. But in the gift of my friend’s music I can recognize very clearly that my life is
not defined or bound by these things. I was – and remain – truly free in a very real sense, free from
what Chesterton called the ‘tyranny of circumstance’”.

A little more than a month has passed since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Joshua
and his cellmates are struck. The following Sunday “one verse from the Hebrew Scriptures struck us
as particularly difficult to reconcile with events of recent days: ‘You will have no further misfortune to
fear’. Really? These are nice words, of course, but quite clearly they tell a monstrous lie. (…) We
talked a great deal about this, and eventually someone pointed out that we were misreading the text.
It doesn’t say, ‘You will have no further misfortune to bear’; rather it says, ‘You will have no further
misfortune to fear’. (…) The same taste I found in Fr. Pe te r Cam e ron’ s s pe e c h. He’s editor-in-chief
of Magnificat. For the past four years he has celebrated Mass each Sunday at St. Rose of Lima Church
in Newtown. The church holds maybe 650 people but that night a thousand people packed into the
church and another thousand standing outside. Not all were Catholic – some were not even Christian.
But they all “needed to be given something so that they would have the strength to face another day”.

Michael Murphy is the husband of Anne Marie, the special ed. teacher who was killed: “‘I have four
grown children and they are taking their mother’s death very hard. So could you please say something
at Mass that might help them?’ Why did Michael Murphy come in search of a priest, instead of a
counselor, or a therapist, or a psychiatrist? Because of an endless aspiration…a boundless expectant
awaiting for which only Jesus Christ can suffice”. Michael Bellmore , a young reporter for the New
Haven Register, was assigned to cover a Saturday evening vigil Mass the day after the shooting. He
writes: “When I drive through the town center, I don’t know whether to cry from sadness for the
victims, or to cry for the hope I see in the defiant signs and banners, the hope in the mountains of
flowers and stuffed animals and candles… And that’s how I felt in church. I felt sadness for those who
were lost, and I felt hope too, for the lost and for us in the pews. I felt like St. Rose of Lima Church
was there for me and everyone else, and that everyone inside was there for each other…”

At the one month anniversary of the shooting, the parish sponsored a series of talks for the parents of
the children in the parish religious education program. Jen Hubbard, who had lost a child, decided to
speak to the assembled parents. When asked how it was possible she said: “There is a Presence that
is so much better than we are, and we have to acknowledge it”. So she stood in the pulpit of St. Rose
of Lima and said to the parents: “I know that God has a specific purpose for us and while I may not
understand right now how I will muster the strength to fulfill His purpose, I must remain centered on
His face. He will provide what I need to move forward…. I pray that we do not go back to normal. I
pray that we find a new normal that is restored in faith…. I pray that you know that you are exactly
where you need to be…”