Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley calls for tighter gun laws, improved care for mentally ill, in the wake of Connecticut shooting

The front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross filled with expectant mothers, palms pressed to bellies. They held the hands of their children and looped arms with their husbands and partners as Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley blessed their unborn babies, at a Sunday Mass offered in solidarity with the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut.

In his homily, O’Malley likened the killings at Sandy Hook to the biblical stories of the slaughter of innocents in Bethlehem and in Egypt, and called for the banning of assault rifles and improved care for the mentally ill.

“What has happened in these days in Newtown, Connecticut, is a tragedy of almost biblical proportion,” he said. “It has caused the whole country to stop and take notice.”

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On Friday morning in Newtown, 20-year old resident Adam Lanza allegedly shot his mother in her home and drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he opened fire, killing 20 children, aged 6 and 7, and six women, before shooting himself.

“As a whole country reflects on these tragic events, we must recognize our society’s inability to deal with mental illness in a more effective way,” said O’Malley. “It is also a clarion call to initiate effective legislation to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of private citizens.”

The Sunday mass was planned before the murders, and O’Malley was already scheduled to perform the Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, which is a blessing not just of unborn children but of their families and communities. This Sunday was the first time that O’Malley had conducted the rite, which was only recently approved by the Vatican.

But after the killings, the rite took on a new significance.

“It just makes you appreciate your life and how quickly things can change,” said Zina Gomez-Liss, 38, of Cambridge, who attended the mass with her husband and their three children. Their fourth is on the way.

“The thing you can have is hope,” she said. “It’s a very empowering thing.”