Law enforcement officers and firefighters, active and retired, from throughout the Diocese of Phoenix gathered Nov. 6 for the Blue Mass in honor of first responders at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted presided over the Mass, saying he was honored to thank those who serve to protect the public.
“I thank you for your vital and important service,” Bishop Olmsted said.
“You do this for the sake of others. At any moment, harm could come your way.”
Bishop Olmsted gave special thanks to those officers and emergency workers who responded to the violent assault last summer that resulted in the death of Fr. Kenneth Walker, FSSP and serious injuries suffered by Fr. Joseph Terra, FSSP.
Fr. Walker, 28, had been ordained two years earlier.
The priests were attacked June 11 at Mater Misericordiae Mission near the state Capitol in Phoenix.
Phoenix police arrested a suspect a few days later, a 54-year-old homeless man who was described as having an extensive criminal record.
Bishop Olmsted said the police and emergency response to the tragedy was “truly professional,” adding, “Our Catholic community is deeply grateful for your professional and compassionate service.”
The names of eight fallen first responders who died in the line of duty in Arizona were called out, including Phoenix police detective John Hobbs, who was shot to death by a homicide suspect in March, just blocks from the cathedral.
Also honored were a host of retired first responders who passed away in the past year.
A color guard and bagpipe-and-drums unit from local police and fire departments led the opening procession at the Mass.
The bishop’s homily repeated the Gospel’s “lost sheep” theme that, “There would be more joy over one sinner who repents” than over 99 righteous people in no need of repentance.
In attendance were first responders from throughout Arizona and families of the fallen.
Mick Ennis, a retired New York City firefighter who served from 1965-1985 and now resides in Cave Creek, had his reasons for attending the Mass.
He said he wanted to honor the memory of “all the members (of the NYFD) that I’ve lost over the years,” including those who died before, during and since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Ennis expressed disappointment that active, local firefighters don’t come out in stronger numbers and that local police officers seem to show greater support for the Blue Mass.
But he said he and other local retired firefighters will continue to come back to the annual Mass to keep its tradition alive.
Officer Rachel Rohkohl of the Phoenix Police Department said she attended because, “The Lord blesses us to do the job we do every day,” and that she was there “definitely for the blessings.”
Fellow Phoenix police officer David Tovar said he has three brothers who also are police officers.
“We come to honor those who sacrificed their lives and be with the families who are remembering their loved ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Officer Tovar pointed out his parents attend all such services along with funerals for fallen officers “because they realize it could be one of their own boys.”
“We all are a family. We all want to be supportive.”