Keith Lewis, an O'Fallon police officer, is among the first responders who appreciate the annual Blue Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
Attending the Mass Sept. 10 with his wife and two children, Lewis said that "our faith tells us sacrifice is one of the most important things you can do to show love and devotion to God."
O'Fallon Police Captain John Neske, like Lewis a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie, said "my faith holds everything together."
The noble profession of first responders is tied to love of neighbor, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said in the homily at the Mass, referring to a reading from Romans 13:8-10 to love your neighbor as yourself. Archbishop Carlson pointed out the first responders' "gift of your lives" demonstrates the "willingness to place others' lives above your own."
He expressed gratitude for their response to people in a time of need and — citing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — for a willingness to confront danger every day, knowing the possibility they may not return at the end of their shift. "We do promise to repay you every day through our prayers," the Archbishop said.
St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson, who attends St. Ambrose Parish in south St. Louis, said after the Mass that he appreciated archbishop Carlson's remarks. First responders aim to "make this a better place," Jenkerson said.
When things get "a little rough or beyond our control," he reflects on his faith and turns to it for guidance.
Sgt. Thomas Rund of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, said his duty as a police officer is "a direct reflection of what I do as a Christian."
A member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in south St. Louis, he began police work at age 19 with the purpose of helping people and protecting lives. "We're called as Christians to help others who need assistance," Rund said
Police officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency support staff and other public safety and law enforcement personnel and their families were invited to the Blue Mass. It's a time to show "togetherness and putting respect for God in our jobs," said Mark Skornia, a firefighter from the Washington Fire Department.
Faith is important, he said, because "you can get caught up in the day-to-day and have to step back and put it into proper perspective."
Ray Jones, a St. Louis City firefighter who served with an honor guard, is not a member of a Catholic parish but he was honored that the archdiocese chose to honor him and his fellow first responders. "They recognize the work we do and the sacrifice we make — including time away from our families," he said.
First responders have to have a loving spirit, Jones said, recognizing that "in order to protect everyone we may not come back home."
Archbishop Carlson presented each with a medal and holy card. Earlier, in a statement about the Mass, he called their work a gift that requires much sacrifice. "In a time when tensions are high, this Mass is one way for the Archdiocese of St. Louis to show support for what these men and women do every day," Archbishop Carlson stated. "In living out their profession, these men and women show us the true spirit of what it means to be a follower of Christ."
The Blue Mass dates to 1934, when a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Md., organized the Catholic Police and Firemen's Society while stationed at St. Patrick Church in Washington, D.C.
More than 1,000 police and firemen, dressed in their blue uniforms, attended that first Blue Mass, which was celebrated on Sept. 29, 1934. The tradition of showing gratitude to emergency responders and their families in this way has continued throughout the United States, especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The Mass honors emergency responders as well as those who have died in the line of duty and brings a greater awareness of those who serve us so faithfully, often placing others' lives and safety above their own.
Two saints in particular are associated with the work of first responders — St. Michael, who stands for strength and courage; and St. Florian, a protector of firefighters.
Several Catholic parishes and schools in the archdiocese honor first responders at events throughout the year. St. Anselm will hold a prayer service police officers, sheriffs, deputies, firefighters, emergency medical service providers, military and other first responders at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26, at the parish center, 530 S. Mason Road.
Archdiocesan-trained Jonah Prayer Ministers will be available following the prayer service for confidential private prayer.