Hundreds of victims, relatives and friends of those killed by guns; religious leaders of all faiths; and gun-control advocates gathered at the Washington National Cathedral Dec. 12, the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, to call for tighter gun registration laws.
The vigil was a time for people to draw strength from each other and to renew their efforts to end the killings. It began with a three-minute tolling of the cathedral’s Bourdon Bell, representing the roughly 30,000 people who lost their lives to guns since 20 children and six teachers were killed in Connecticut.
“Today is a day of sorrow,” declared Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, as he began the 90-minute ceremony with a call to prayer. “Three hundred sixty five days and although there has been no appreciable legislative progress on the national level, there has been much honor with action seen all over the country.”
Gutow continued, “The Bible commands us not to stand idly by when faced with the blood of a neighbor.” Judaism also asks us to remember, but he said, “We know that memory alone is never enough.”
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton spoke of the need for persistence, reminding those gathered that it took 150 years for women to gain the right to vote. “I am not counseling patience, my friend, but I am counseling persistence.”
Numerous speakers solemnly walked to the microphone to briefly speak of their now-deceased loved ones. They urged everyone to remember and not be silent.
“This is the positive legacy that will come from unimaginable loss,” said one parent.
One man spoke of a cousin he lost to gang violence. “The same gang that I belonged to,” he noted.
“Everyday someone is gunned down because of what people feel like they have to do to solve a problem,” said a young man, who added that he had hope, because “people here want to help.”
Nardyne Jefferies spoke of the pain of losing her only child, her 16-year-old daughter, who was shot in the head during a drive-by in Washington, D.C. “She was robbed of her life. I was robbed of future generations,” Jefferies said. She asked everyone to “support me and unfortunately the many more who will come after me.”
Others who spoke included a former Virginia-Tech student, a father whose son was killed celebrating his birthday in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and a 15-year-old Chicago teen whose sister was “gunned down around the corner from my house by a man with no conscience.”
“We shall never forget the names, the smiles, the promises, the touch, the laughter, the vacations, the presents, the hopes of our fallen loved ones,” declared the Rev. Sam Saylor, pastor of a church in Hartford, Conn., and father of a 20-year-old son who was murdered.
Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim in Tucson, Ariz., mixed Hebrew and English, speaking and singing, as she called on people to listen to God’s small voice within and to have the courage to hear all the stories and stop the violence.
Filling the large cathedral with music was Carole King, who played piano and sang a hymn, “In the Name of Love,” and the World Children’s Choir, which sang both a lullaby and “My Beautiful Town,” which was written about Newtown, Conn., a few days after the school shooting.
The event was organized by the nonprofit Newtown Foundation and Washington National Cathedral, which only the day before was the site of a remembrance of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s former president.