Phrases such as “officer killed,” “Yarnell 19,” “police in standoff” and “firefighters battle blaze” refer not just to headlines, but also to colleagues of Arizona’s law enforcement and emergency responders.
Active and retired police officers and firefighters joined fellow colleagues, families of the fallen, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares in praying for them all during the annual Blue Mass Nov. 7 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. The liturgy is one of thanksgiving for all emergency personnel from the “911” dispatcher to the corrections officer.
A tribute honoring the fallen with a single candlelight preceded the liturgy. State and municipal police and firefighter organizations lost 23 people in the line of duty this year. That included the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters who died while trying to protect properties in Yarnell June 30. A Granite Mountain crew member parked one of their trucks in front of the cathedral.
Members of various fire departments and police precincts read another 83 names while others lit a candle in their honor signaling those who died of non-work-related causes since last year’s Mass. The lengthy list included more than 30 Phoenix police officers, 19 Phoenix firefighters and 18 from the Arizona prison system.
Arizona Department of Corrections Officer Randy Stewart knew two of them. This marked the first Blue Mass he attended and said it was important to honor the fallen. He also acknowledged members of the public who attended. A student choir representing Ss. Simon and Jude and St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale along with their parents and family of those honored helped fill seats.
“It’s nice to be recognized by the community other than the negative aspects,” Stewart said.
Bishop Nevares acknowledged the difficulty of their jobs in his homily.
“After all you do, do you servants ever get a pat on the back? Or do you only get sneers and snarls and criticisms and backstabbing?” he questioned.
The bishop prayed through the Beatitudes during the homily and reflected on each point in relation to the life of emergency and public safety personnel, whose vocation is to serve.
“Not only do we mourn our brothers and sisters who have gone before us, especially those who gave their lives,” the bishop said, steps away from the 106 burning candles, “Many of you must mourn at the fact that there is so much violence, so much hatred toward one another that causes mourning.”
Bishop Nevares described the “beautiful dispositions of soul” each of them have to serve so generously and courageously. He called them “the epitome of mercy” and applauded their sympathy, pity and empathy and assured them of the Church’s love and daily prayerful support.