Members of the Phoenix Police Department and Phoenix Fire Department lead the procession into Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral for the Diocese of Phoenix’s annual Blue Mass Nov. 30. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Donning their finest uniforms, a heavy presence of law enforcement personnel and first responders gathered at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Nov. 30.

Nearly 500, including leaders of the Phoenix Police and Fire departments, as well as the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Arizona Department of Public Safety, were in the pews at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral for the Diocese of Phoenix’s annual Blue Mass. Some of their family members joined them as did several Ss. Simon and Jude classrooms.

Celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, the Mass featured a reading of 68 names of officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who died during the year and in late 2017, including a number killed in the line of duty as well as those retired public safety members who passed away.

Candles burn in solemn tribute to deceased public safety personnel inside Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral during the Diocese Phoenix’s annual Blue Mass Nov. 30. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

“For us to be able to attend functions like this is very important. This is all about faith. When we’re dispatching, we don’t get closure many times,” said James Frazier, a veteran Phoenix Fire Department dispatcher. “For example, we’ll give CPR instructions or deliver babies over the phone, and we’re expected to keep going. So, if you don’t have a strong faith, mentally and emotionally you’re not going to survive on this job very long.”

Frazier’s niece, Megan Lange, a fellow Phoenix dispatcher, was killed in January 2015 by a vehicle being driven the wrong way on Interstate 17 less than an hour after she finished her shift. The other driver pleaded guilty.

As if the participants needed any further reminder of the sacrifice and dangers of these occupations, the Mass was celebrated less than 24 hours after a deputy U.S. marshal was fatally shot while serving a felony warrant in Tucson. The man on whom the warrant was being served remains in custody. Just over 24 hours after the Blue Mass ended, police took a man into custody at St. Mary’s Basilica after he vandalized several statues.

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares delivers his homily during the Diocese Phoenix’s annual Blue Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Nov. 30. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Nevares, in his homily, hailed the sacrifice, calling and selflessness of public safety personnel, characterizing their work as much more than a job. The bishop referenced the first reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which the Apostle tells his readers that salvation comes through believing in one’s heart and confessing with one’s lips that Jesus is Lord.

“If everyone put these words into practice, you would be out of a job. But everyone does not put those words into practice,” he said. “There is evil, violence and destruction in the world. That is why we are so grateful to you officers who are willing to give your life.

“You — defenders of the law and protectors of citizens — you are set apart by Almighty God. It is the vocation God calls you to serve. We (priests) are in the same business. We are chosen by God so others might be saved. So, how beautiful it is we are together.”

From left, Phoenix Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Joseph Gonzales, retired Phoenix firefighter Benny Ashley, 101, Firefighter Tim Kovacs and Assistant Fire Chief Mike Duran pose following the Diocese Phoenix’s annual Blue Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Nov. 30. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

The bishop also hailed the love and support of family members who live with the possibility daily that a loved one might not return from work.

Mike Duran, one of Phoenix’s assistant fire chiefs and a parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glendale, has attended several of the diocese’s Blue Masses and said it is more than a rite of the Catholic faith. Duran’s father was a firefighter, and as a boy, Duran learned the value of serving others. He said the profession is an extension of that ideal.

“We come from different backgrounds, but we serve the community, and it doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are, what your (religious) status; we put all that aside. We are there to provide a service.”

Phoenix Police Chief Geri Williams greets a couple following the Diocese Phoenix’s annual Blue Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral Nov. 30. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC SUN)

Barbara Long of Sun City lost her husband, retired Phoenix Police Lt. Oscar Long, just over a year ago following a 25-year career during which he provided security for visiting U.S. presidents and played a major role in the investigation into the 1976 fatal car bombing of journalist Don Bolles, a probe that, with the aid of the dying reporter, resulted in one guilty plea and the conviction of a second man. Not a regular church attender, Barbara Long said she was moved by the prayers as well as the reading of the names of the deceased from the past year or so.

“It means a lot to see so many people come here and want to honor those who have served and who still do. It touched my heart.”