Diocesan News

Newtown Priest Extends Thanks to Lincoln Diocese

(SNR) - Recently, Father Adam Sughroue, associate pastor at St. John the Apostle Parish in Lincoln, received a surprising message from one of his former classmates at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. It was from Father Luke Suarez, parochial vicar of Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, Conn.

After the terrible tragedy that took the lives of 20 young schoolchildren and six of their adult educators, Father Suarez and his pastor, Msgr. Robert Weiss, were overwhelmed by the pressing needs of their parishioners, including families of victims.

Father Suarez’s sister wrote an impassioned letter to family and friends, begging for prayers for the clergymen, and asking supporters to send a Christmas card to the rectory, "with a few words of love and encouragement."

The letter went "viral," forwarded from one person to another and showing up on a number of Catholic blogs.

"I’ve received at least 18,000 cards from all over the world," Father Suarez said in a telephone interview earlier this week. "When you add in all the packages from schools or parishes around the country, that number is exponentially higher."

Now that things have settled down somewhat for the Newtown community, Father Suarez has been wading through box after box of kind words, promises of prayers, small gifts and spiritual bouquets.

"Due to the sheer volume, it’s impossible to respond to everyone," Father Suarez admitted. "I’m trying to sort them, to see if there are notes that require responses."

In the process, he realized that a great number of cards and gifts had come from individuals and schools within the Diocese of Lincoln.

Father Suarez recalled that during seminary, one of the professors had mentioned that Father Sughroue would be going home to a diocese filled with faithful, practicing laypersons. And now he had the evidence of it.

He contacted Father Sughroue to thank the entire diocese.

"Symbolically I’m thanking your diocese, by thanking you," he told Father Sughroue. "The outpouring of prayers and support by your [diocese] has been unparalleled by really any other place in the entire country."

"I was amazed when I heard the message he had left me. Amazed. It serves as a reminder to give thanks to God daily," Father Sughroue said.

He’s been concerned for his friend since the heartbreak last Dec. 14. On a Facebook page for a course they took together at seminary, a flood of prayers and support for Father Suarez came as soon as the news was broadcast. Each man understood the challenge he was facing in ministering to those who had suffered such a senseless loss.

"There is nothing that can prepare anyone for this level of tragedy," Father Sughroue said. "The most important thing is to cling to our Heavenly Father, Mary our Mother, and the faith that has been handed down to us by Jesus Christ."

Father Suarez credits the numerous prayers that have been said for him, Msgr. Weiss and the whole Newtown community for sustaining them thus far.

"It’s been extraordinary to sit here in Newtown and to understand that there are so many people supporting us and praying for us and mourning with us," Father Suarez said.

He sounded deeply touched by the gifts of spiritual support the parish has received.

"Each [card] is full of encouragement and support," he said. "There’s a lot of land between us, but we all share the same faith."

Father Suarez quoted from a card written by a boy from an unknown city.

"He’s maybe 8 or 10 years old, judging from his handwriting," Father Suarez said. "He wrote, ‘You are one of the greatest gifts to mankind.’ Such a beautiful sentiment."

Father Suarez said he is trying to find a good forum to display the kind messages within the parish, as a means of providing hope and encouragement

"As things quiet down, it gets more difficult," he said. "Life here is continuing, and it has to, but there are mixed emotions. There are people who want to move forward and others who feel like it’s too soon."

Father Suarez asked for continued prayers, because the sense of sorrow is still so great and so fresh.

"But there’s a sense of peace and hope here, which is extraordinary, and I am convinced it’s because of the prayers from literally around the world."

He urged the people of the Diocese of Lincoln, "Continue to remember us in prayer, but it’s best to assist us with sharing your own faith in your homes…. It’s all for the glory of God."

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