WASHINGTON — Solemn moments of prayer and the singing of hymns contrasted with calls for political action during a vigil at the Washington National Cathedral on Thursday, almost a year after 20 children and six adults were gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The sermons and speeches during the vigil aimed to console, as well as to demand action on gun-control laws.
“A year ago next Sunday I said from this pulpit behind me that the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby,” said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral. “I said that then, and I say it now.”
Hall said that about 32,000 lives had been lost to gun violence since the Sandy Hook shootings Dec. 14, 2012.
“This has never ever been just about Newtown,” said Dave Ackert, a Sandy Hook resident who founded the Newtown Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing gun violence. Based in Newtown, the group hosted the vigil with the cathedral. “We realized early on that it’s a national problem.”
Four of Ackert’s neighbors lost children at Sandy Hook. “Many of the others have kids who saw things that nobody should ever have to see,” he said.
Ackert said that he was fortunate that his two children were not at Sandy Hook Elementary, but that “there are 30,000 families this year alone that are mourning just like people in Sandy Hook.”
The hundreds of people attending the vigil wore green ribbons and held white candles, which were lit for a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” to close the ceremony.
Family members of those killed or severely injured in gun incidents around the country shared their own calls for action and hopes for the future, in between prayers from leaders of different churches and religions.
“We owe our children, the most valuable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear,” said the Rev. Matthew Crebbin, senior minister at Newtown Congregational Church. “We owe them communities of peace.”
Among those in the audience were Sens. Christopher S. Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, as well as Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who represents the district where the shooting occurred. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia, spoke during the service to back stronger gun legislation.
“I am grateful to the states who have moved ahead,” Norton said. “I am grateful for their moral courage. We summon that courage today.”
What is most jarring, she said, is not just the number of deaths from shootings appearing in headlines each year, but “the number — the unfathomable number — per incident: Newtown, 26; our own Navy Yard, 12; Aurora, Colo., 12; Virginia Tech, 32.”
But with persistence, she said, changes can be made in laws on background checks and gun access. Of the families of Newtown victims, she said: “They have refused to fade until the next headline.”