HARTFORD – Archbishop Leonard P. Blair echoed Pope Francis’ words May 3 when he said men and women who protect the safety of our communities perform “a difficult service; a service for the common good and for the common peace; service that is dangerous, even to your life.”
The words are from Pope Francis’ April 18, 2013, address to police officials of the Inspectorate for Public Security in the Vatican. Archbishop Blair used them in the context of the seventh annual Blue Mass celebrated at St. Joseph Cathedral, where hundreds of police, fire and other emergency personnel were honored.
Remembered in a special way were two men who died in 2014 in the line of duty: Kevin L. Bell, a Hartford Fire Department firefighter who died fighting a fire on Oct. 7; and David P. Fiori, deputy fire chief of the New Britain Fire Department, who suffered a heart attack while on duty and died March 26. Archbishop Blair presented memorial candles to the families of the fallen men.
The candles, the archbishop said, “are but a token – a symbol of our profound sympathy, our gratitude and our prayers – to those who have given their lives.”
In his homily, he said, “These two men, whom we commend to the love and mercy of God, represent all the deceased of those who protect and those who serve.”
The names of 88 other police, fire, Department of Correction and safety personnel who died in 2014 were also listed “In Memoriam” in the Blue Mass program booklet.
In light of recent violent protests in our cities, Archbishop Blair said, it is important for emergency personnel to be vigilant. Referring to Christ’s words in the day’s Gospel from John 15:1-8 – “I am the vine and you are the branches” – Archbishop Blair said, “How important it is, then, for you to be deeply rooted in faith and love, deeply rooted in Christ, like branches on a vine.”
He implored hearers to renew their faith in Isaiah’s vision of a world where justice will bring about peace, and “my people, says the Lord, will live in a peaceful country and quiet resting places” (Isaiah 32:18).
The Blue Mass – named for the blue uniforms of police, firefighters and other emergency responders – began, as in past years, with a short parade down Farmington Avenue and under a giant American flag attached to a Hartford Fire Department power ladder. Archbishop Blair reviewed the military-like procession from the top step of the cathedral and then, with his concelebrants, deacons and servers, followed them into the cathedral.
Marty Dumont of Hartford, a member of the equipment maintenance division of the Hartford Fire Department, said he was acquainted with the late Mr. Bell and attended his funeral. “We put the flag across the road at the cemetery and at the funeral home,” he said.
Sgt. Mike Chauvin, an 11-year member of the Hartford Police Department and a six-year member of its honor guard, said, “It’s a day to recognize those who have given the ultimate sacrifice and what public safety does, both police and fire. It’s a day that, here in Hartford, has grown in the course of time and gotten bigger and bigger as time went on.”
Lt. Marc Petruzzi of Glastonbury, a 15-year member of the Connecticut State Police and newly named Hartford barracks commander, said he has attended all seven Blue Masses in Hartford. A member of St. Dunstan Parish in East Glastonbury, he said, “It’s important because the job we do is demanding. It has a lot of stresses in it. And for me to have a connection to my faith, my Catholic faith, is important. It helps guide you in many decisions that you make. It says you are the type of person that you are, which is reflected in how you do your job as a police officer or state trooper.”
Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra said the Blue Mass is important to him because he is a person of faith. “I believe in the power of prayer and I believe that it is a good thing to be able to ask for God’s divine intervention and making sure that our security officers, our police and fire officers, are safe,” he said. “It is an opportunity for me to get some peace in asking God to intervene in a way so that, as I walk that very narrow path of trying to keep peace in our communities and protect our public and protect our citizens, that I make the right decisions as I move forward.”
Robert P. Dwyer, of the Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police, said, “We can never forget, especially this year, how many people are doing things that put themselves on the line every day, every night, and not just the officers themselves but their family members. If you’re in the field, your whole family’s in the field.”
Others in the procession included the Connecticut Statewide Fire Honor Guard, the Connecticut Department of Correction Honor Guard and honor guards from various communities.