Looking to the light in an hour of darkness

Vigil at Xavier High School for departed children and teens

By Dan Russo | Witness Staff Writer

December 10, 2014


Aubree Bowers (left) and Jake Dougherty pray at a Dec. 6 vigil for children and teens that have died. The vigil was held for the first time at Xavier Catholic High School in Cedar Rapids at the Angel of Hope statue. Organizers hope to make it an annual tradition. (Witness photo by Dan Russo)CEDAR RAPIDS — Dozens of candles brought a warm glow to a cold night around the Angel of Hope Statue at Xavier Catholic High School recently. Amidst the flickering lights, a crowd prayed for children and teens who have died and their grieving families.

“It’s such an honor to be a part of something so wonderful,” Kristi Bowers told those gathered for the vigil Dec. 6. “The power of prayer is so indescribable … and undeniable to me. I know for a fact that’s one reason I am able to stand up here tonight. Please know my family and I will be praying for you all this Christmas season. We’re thankful for all the many prayers that are being sent back to us also.”

Bowers, whose family belongs to St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Rapids, was among those in attendance who had lost a child. She and her husband Ben’s 17-month-old son Vinnie died unexpectedly on Sept. 25, 2013 of natural causes. The young mother, who has three other children, shared her story with the group as part of the service. She talked about how God and the support of others have helped her with an ongoing healing process.

“I hope this helps other people who have lost children,” she said of her reasons for speaking.

The vigil, held for the first time in Cedar Rapids, coincided with events held simultaneously around the world, beginning at 7 p.m. at all Angel of Hope statues. The statues were inspired by the “Christmas Box,” a 1993 novel about a woman who mourns the death of her child at the base of an angel statue. Author Richard Paul Evans paid for the first Angel of Hope in Salt Lake City, Utah after parents who had lost a child asked for a statue matching the description in the book.

Since then, over 120 statues have been placed around the world. The one at Xavier Catholic High School was placed July 7, 2014. Kylie DeWees, a Xavier graduate who now attends Loras College, made it possible by raising the money necessary through selling an album of Christian themed piano music. As a 16-year-old junior, never having had a piano lesson in her life, she was inspired to compose music as a way to bring solace to families in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012.

About 100 people, including DeWees, came together to sing and pray at the vigil. Many wept openly when the names of departed loved ones were read aloud. Stuffed animals, letters and other personal items were placed at the foot of the statue and many lingered afterwards to offer their own private prayers.

“In this hour of darkness, we choose to look to the light to offer hope,” said Judy Ram­sey, one of the vigil’s organizers, when opening the ceremony.

Ramsey, who is adolescent faith formation coordinator for St. Joseph Parish in Marion, was pleased with the strong turnout, especially among young people, and said she hopes to make the vigil an annual tradition.

“I work with teenagers,” she said. “It’s nice to remind them to offer prayers for the deceased and engage in the spiritual works of mercy.”

At one point, the crowd said a ‘Hail Mary’ together, asking for intercession from the Blessed Mother.

“(Mary) knows what it’s like to lose a child,” said Ramsey to the crowd. “She knows what it’s like to watch another suffer with no end in sight. And at the foot of the cross, she showed us how to prayerfully act, simply by standing alongside someone in their misery, proving that they are not alone and how this can be the strongest act of comfort we can provide.”

Some area youth participated in leading the vigil, each reading an excerpt from Scripture or other types of prayer.

“Kristi (Bowers) is my aunt and I was here for Vinnie,” said Aubree Bowers. “It was peaceful and inspiring.”

Dimitri Villanueva, a student journalist for the Loras College television station, filmed the vigil as part of his efforts to make a documentary about DeWees and the Angel of Hope statue.

“As a music person, I was really interested in this story,” said Villanueva. “(The vigil) was beautiful.”

The crowd closed its group prayer by singing “Amazing Grace,” led by Bob Col­qu­houn, a Christian musician from Cedar Rapids. He performed several other songs as participants spoke with each other or reflected silently after the event formally ended.

Kristi Bowers started a blog after her son’s death. Her writing has offered comfort and inspiration to many. The blog now has about 2,500 followers. It can be found at theblueskyproject.wordpress.com.