East Lyme - Members of the youth groups at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, their parents and group leaders wanted to send a powerful message to the grieving families of Newtown.
So on Sunday they said it loudly with prayer. Sixty-five people of all ages formed a human rosary in the church sanctuary, reciting the prayers that accompany each bead and adding a few special thoughts for not only the Newtown victims but also for unborn children.
The program was part of the national Life Teen Catholic youth organization's "Life Teen Prayer for Newtown," which asked participating groups throughout the country to hold prayer events during January. Photos and notes from the participants will be posted on the national group's Facebook page.
Rhonda Lundgren, director of faith programs for St. Agnes, said she organized a similar event when she was living in Illinois, and in early December had planned Sunday's living rosary in honor of unborn children. Then the Newtown school massacre happened on Dec. 14, and Lundgren adapted the program to meet both causes.
Lundgren spent the first several minutes after Sunday's Mass counting participants and handing out the dozens of color-coded prayer pamphlets that went with each bead of rosary. She asked youth group members to start the chain at the familiar crucifix stand used to lead processions into mass. She placed the crucifix in the center aisle and set up her participants up the center aisle and around pews on both sides, connecting the necklace through a line of pews where older participants who preferred to sit during the service took their places.
"If you can, stand like a rosary bead," she instructed the teens, with five groups of 10 "beads" for the Hail Mary prayers, with a space followed by groups of two to recite the Glory Be prayer and the Fatima prayer and to read one of five mysteries of Christ that led into the Our Father.
"Lord, fill us with Wisdom to know your abundance," the second mystery read. "Help us to understand that you give us everything we need - even when we are afraid or sad. Like Mary, help us to reach out to those who need our help and our prayers, especially the people of Newtown and the yet to be born children. Amen."
Life Teen member Lauren Wilkos, 13, didn't need to glance at Lundgren's diagram of a rosary to know the pattern. She carried her own set of pink beads that had belonged to her grandmother, Helen Provera of Hartford. Lauren said she remembers her grandmother "a little," and her mother suggested she hold the beads for Sunday's prayer program.
"My mom thought my grandmother would like it," she said.
Kara Santa Maria, 15, standing next to Lauren, said Sunday's living rosary would show people in Newtown that others are thinking about them.
"It's nice, because people in Newtown will know that people are always going to care," Kara said.
The youngest and among the loudest voices to rise in prayer Sunday belonged to Jack Whewell, 6, and his sister Katie Whewell, 7, of Niantic. For them, it was a family event as well as a prayer service. Parents Bruce and Ellen Whewell and siblings Abby, 10, Becca, 12, Sam, 16, and Ben, 17, all joined in the rosary necklace.
"This was a great opportunity to have community prayer," Bruce Whewell said.
Ellen Whewell said the event showed the meaning of life, with a community coming together to pray.
"As a parent, it's very difficult hearing those things," she said of the Newtown shootings.