Clergy from all religions try to help make sense of Newtown tragedy -
Published Sunday, December 23, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 8:06 am
Clergy from all religions try to help make sense of Newtown tragedy

Her cellphone beeped with a text message from a friend as she pulled into a grocery store parking lot.

As she read about the school shooting in Connecticut, Jammie Hermans sobbed.


The heartbreak and anger that struck Hermans, a Papillion mother of four young children, has turned her and others to their faith and their house of prayer for answers.

People are trying to reconcile the joy of Christmas with the terrible sadness of the tragedy. Local clergy members say that once the 24-hour holiday music and shopping frenzy are stripped away, Christmas offers a powerful message of hope, strength and forgiveness for people to draw on.

“Christmas is about the truth,'' said Dr. Roger Theimer, children's pastor at Omaha's King of Kings Lutheran Church. “God did send His son, Jesus, and Jesus does give life. There is healing.”

Local Jewish and Muslim leaders said their faiths also offer spiritual muscle, and comfort for those grappling with the shooting.


Omaha experienced a December tragedy firsthand five years ago with the shooting at Von Maur department store that left eight dead, plus the 19-year-old gunman, who killed himself.

In any year, the holiday season can bring sadness for people who have lost a spouse, family member or friend. More people may be feeling that emotion because of the deaths in Connecticut, pastors said, and that is normal.

“It's OK, because God is sad with us,” said the Rev. Ernesto Medina, rector of St. Martha Episcopal Church in Papillion.

At his church on Christmas Eve, a lector will read Scripture from Isaiah that provides comfort, Medina said, for those feeling pain: “The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them a light has shined.”

He said the meaning is as simple as it is powerful: God is with those who are suffering, or see themselves in darkness.

Hermans, a member of St. Martha Church, said she has felt anger toward the gunman for the pain he inflicted on families of the victims. She said Christmas, with its message of salvation, has helped her balance that emotion.

She said she realizes that the salvation that the birth of Jesus promises is for all people — even the gunman.

“(God) put His son on Earth so we all can be saved,'' she said.


Fa'iz Rab, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Omaha, said the young age of most of the victims hit Muslims at his center hard. But members of the center have found reassurance through their faith. As Muslims, he said, they believe children go straight to heaven.

Muslim teachings, for example, say that a child that dies in infancy is holding open the gates of heaven for its mom and dad.

“That is extremely comforting for parents,'' he said.

The deaths of the children in Connecticut also were particularly heartbreaking for members of Omaha's Temple Israel, given Jewish history, said Rabbi Aryeh Azriel, its senior rabbi.

A half-million Jewish children died in the Holocaust, he said, so Jewish people understand the anguish of young lives lost.

The shooting occurred during Hanukkah. Azriel said that although the holiday now is over, Hanukkah's emphasis on the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, is a message of hope that endures.

“You don't sit in the darkness and curse the darkness,” he said. “You are supposed to light a candle and bring the light.”

The Rev. Jane Florence of Omaha's First United Methodist Church said the Scripture reading for today offers a message of hope, as well as trust in the power of the Lord.

The passage from the Book of Matthew describes an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream and telling him: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us.'”

Florence said the realization that God is present in our lives, through both joy and sorrow, is a powerful message for anyone touched by loss.

The Rev. Ryan Lewis of Omaha's St. Thomas More Catholic Church said the Gospel reading for midnight Mass on Christmas Eve also delivers compelling words.

The passage from Luke talks about an angel telling the shepherds about the birth of Jesus: “To you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

“Even though evil abounds,'' Lewis said, “grace abounds even more. The ultimate victory has been won by Jesus.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1122,

Contact the writer: Michael O'Connor    |   402-444-1122    |  

Michael is a general assignment reporter for the Living section, covering a mix of topics including human interest stories.

PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
Brothers looking for pot sentenced for violent home invasion
At Boys Town panel, experts stress it's never too early to educate children
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Gov. Heineman calls 2014 a 'very good year for Nebraska taxpayers'
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Arrest made in teen's shooting death at Benson's Gallagher Park
Section of 50th Street to close for bridge demolition
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
Plans for new $16M YMCA in Council Bluffs at 'critical juncture'
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
With fixed AC, Fort Calhoun's nuclear station ends brief shutdown
Windy day could make driving difficult on east-west roads
Richard Brown steps down as Charles Drew Health Center CEO
OPD safety expo set for April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
18-year-old arrested in stolen-car case
U.S. Senate candidate Bart McLeay trails his 3 GOP rivals in fundraising
< >
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Breaking Brad: Pothole repair crew gets stuck in a pothole
In East Lansing, Mich., a pothole repair crew got stuck inside a pothole. How did this not happen in Omaha?
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Breaking Brad: Hey, Republicans, are you ready to be audited?
A quick list of audit red flags: 3) You fail to sign your return. 2) You fail to report income. 1) You are a registered Republican.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Shoreline Golf Club
$40 for 2 Players, 18 Holes of Golf with Cart ($85 Value)
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »