HARTFORD – On the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, as the country cleaned up after Hurricane Harvey and was enduring Hurricane Irma, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair thanked emergency responders throughout the state and the nation for their valiant service to others.
“We give thanks to God and to all of our first responders who step up every day to be their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in life-and-death situations,” he said, “as well as in moments of personal need brought on by accident, injury, danger or distress.
“We have only to think of what has happened and what is happening with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to realize what a tremendous debt of gratitude we owe,” the archbishop said. “So we thank you brothers and sisters for all that you do and who you are, and we join in praying for you and for all those like you who at this very moment are on the front lines.”
The archbishop expressed everyone’s gratitude as part of his homily during the ninth annual Blue Mass for first responders held at the Cathedral of St. Joseph on Sunday, Sept. 10. More than 600 supporters attended the special Mass to honor state and local police, firefighters, corrections officers, and paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
Two ladder trucks from the Hartford Fire Department held a giant American flag high above Farmington Avenue just outside the cathedral, as uniformed color guards marched down the street and processed into the church. Inside the cathedral, they were joined by the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Honor Guard, numerous priests and deacons, and the archbishop.
The Mass was open to men and women of all faiths. Archbishop Blair served as the principal celebrant.
During his homily, he also stressed that all people of faith are their brothers’ keeper when it comes to “calling out what is morally distorted, bankrupt, sinful and, therefore, deadly.” In today’s society, he said, it’s difficult for many to come to the most fundamental conclusions about right and wrong, so we must speak out.
“In our country today, many evils are rearing their ugly head: disrespect for life from conception to natural death; disrespect for persons on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion; the demonizing of people who have different views; the rejection of immigrants in a nation that is founded largely on immigrants,” Archbishop Blair said.
We cannot afford to be indifferent, he stressed. “How concerned are we about our nation? How courageous are we about speaking out? How concerned are we about the person who is our neighbor, and all the members of our community?” he asked.'“May we all be first responders in the ways of love, in binding up the moral and spiritual wounds of our nation, as well as the material and physical wounds,” Archbishop Blair said.''
Five priests served as concelebrants at the Blue Mass: Father James A. Shanley, episcopal vicar and rector of the cathedral; Father Anthony J. Bruno, former director of religious services for the Connecticut Department of Correction; Dominican Missionary Father Thomas Coughlin, of the archdiocesan Ministry to the Deaf Apostolate; Father Michael J. Dolan, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Hamden, priest chaplain at Quinnipiac University and director of interreligious affairs for the archdiocese; and Father Ronald A. Ferraro, chaplain of the Waterbury police and fire departments.
Deacon Dennis R. Ferguson, of the Ministry to the Deaf Apostolate, also assisted.
The procession included the Connecticut State Police Honor Guard, Hartford Fire Department Honor Guard, Hartford Police Honor Guard, Connecticut Statewide Fire Honor Guard and Connecticut Department of Correction Honor Guard as well as representatives from the towns of Suffield and South Windsor.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin was among the special invited guests.
After the Mass, attendees shared their thoughts.
Captain Mark Sticca, deputy commander of the Connecticut State Police, credited former Archbishop Henry J. Mansell for his vision in instituting the Blue Mass nine years ago as well as Archbishop Blair for “continuing the tradition” and for moving it from May to September to honor the first responders and others who fell on 9/11.
“It’s a day to honor those who have gone before us,” Sticca said, “to honor those American citizens who gave their lives on this day. It’s something we can’t forget.”
Sticca, a Catholic who belongs to St. John Parish in Darien, said he also appreciated the opportunity to pray for local colleagues who passed away during the past year. A total of 175 names were listed in “the roll of honor” in the Mass program. “We’re just honored and glad the archbishop allows us to continue to worship here and to honor our brothers and sisters we’ve lost personally.”
Fire Chief Reginald Freeman of the Hartford Fire Department said, “This is a magnificent event. To have the Church recognize the fire, police and emergency services is truly humbling and truly appreciated. Just to know that you have that support, and with Engine 5 just around the corner on Sigourney Street, it gives them a sense of purpose and motivation.”
Father Ferraro, a senior priest and chaplain, said he always has had a special connection to firefighters that goes back to his childhood, when his father was a fireman in the Waterbury Fire Department. As a priest, Father Ferraro has served as chaplain for the Waterbury Fire Department for 50 years and chaplain for the Waterbury Police Department for 20 years.
Father Ferraro said he was pleased to participate in the Blue Mass and, as a chaplain, is always willing to provide spiritual support to emergency responders “especially in time of need—after a serious accident or the death of one of their members.”
Captain Raul Ortiz of the Hartford Fire Department, attended with a dozen other firefighters from the city, including several new fire academy recruits. “You can never turn down an opportunity for someone to say a prayer for you,” Ortiz said. “We always accept it. I felt compelled to come.”