HARTFORD – It was bright and breezy on the morning of the sixth annual Blue Mass on May 4 – so breezy that Hartford Fire Department Captain James McLoughlin and fire truck mechanics Martin Dumont and Steve Tarasek struggled mightily to hoist a billowing American flag between the towering ladders of cars 3 and 29 parked back-to-back in front of St. Joseph Cathedral on Farmington Avenue.
But the men tightened the lanyards and increased tension on the flag, and it proudly waved in honor of thousands of police, fire and other safety personnel who serve or have served in Connecticut over the years.
“The Blue Mass goes back to 1934, when more than 1,000 police and fire personnel packed into St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, D.C.,” Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, principal celebrant, said at the start of the Mass. He said that the tradition has grown in popularity here and across the country since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when hundreds of emergency responders died.
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The archbishop personally greeted Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and later thanked her publicly for attending.
In his homily, Archbishop Blair quoted Saint John Paul II, who addressed representatives of the Catholic police officers of England and Wales on April 12, 1985: “'I hope that your work, which sometimes brings you into contact with the darker side of human nature, will not deter you from enthusiastically serving the cause of civic harmony and well-being with sensitivity and Christian hope.'”
The archbishop added, “These words of this great sainted pope are really at the heart of this Blue Mass that brings us together today.... Yours is the service of profound hope, of constant work for the common good and for human solidarity. And we know that many times the faith that undergirds this service of yours is put to the test.”
He said that it sometimes is puzzling to us that a loving God would allow human beings to be capable of cruelty; but if we are created in God’s image and likeness, we also possess the gift of freedom, “which is our great glory but is also our great weakness sometimes.”
He said, “The Christian Gospel is not good news in a sometimes superficial way, the kind of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ world. But the Gospel is good news precisely because the world is not okay. Left to ourselves, we’re hopeless to untangle from sin and death. But for Christians, the good news is that in Jesus Christ, the son of God, we have a Redeemer.”
He asked for prayers for a world in which, in the vision of Isaiah (chapter 32), “justice will bring about peace, right will produce calm and security, and my people, says the Lord, will live in a peaceful country in secure dwelling places and quiet resting places.”
The archbishop prayed in a special way for 17 police, fire and safety personnel who died in the past year. After the Eucharist, he presented a commemorative memorial candle to the family of Donavan Alden, a member of the American Medical Response team, who died in the line of duty on March 30, 2014. Jason Kane, a member of American Medical Response, accepted the candle on behalf of the family.
Archbishop Blair said the late Mr. Alden represented “all the deceased of those who were called in this room to protect and to serve.”
Connecticut State Police honor guard member Mike Suntava of Cheshire said before the Mass that he has worked with members of the Blue Mass committee since the tradition began in the archdiocese five years ago. “We honor everybody that served, passed away, and I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
Kevin Cooney, who is a member of the South Windsor and Manchester fire departments and is also a Connecticut Statewide Fire Honor Guard member, said, “As a firefighter being Catholic, it’s important to recognize our fallen firefighters, whether they die in the line of duty or a natural death. It’s important to recognize them. It keeps the brotherhood alive. This Mass recognizes not only line-of-duty deaths but people who have served as firefighters who died naturally, so it’s important to recognize and remember them.”
Captain Michael Howley, of South Fire District in Middletown, said this was his first Blue Mass. “I’ve heard about it but not attended in the past. It’s kind of important for myself this year because we had one of our members pass away last October, a good friend of mine I grew up with [firefighter Michael C. Osiecki], so I wanted to attend.”
The Mass was preceded by a paradedown Farmington Avenue of blue-uniformed police, fire and safety responders, led by motorcyclists from the Hartford Police Department. Archbishop Blair stood on the steps of the cathedral to greet the honor guards from the Connecticut State Police, Hartford Fire Department, Hartford Police Department and Connecticut Department of Correction, Connecticut Statewide Fire Honor Guard and personnel from local communities.