Stars, stripes and self-sacrifice

by Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff – October 10, 2017

More than 1,000 people packed St. James Cathedral to honor Central Florida’s first responders at the 16th annual Blue Mass, September 29. A massive American flag billowed outside offering a sense of pride and protection. Every head turned when the Orlando Firefighters Pipes and Drums began to play “America the Beautiful.” The mission was simple- pray for the men and women who protect us every day.

Seminarian Adam Marchese and his father, Dominic, retired chief of the Speedway Fire and Rescue Department, were among those participating in the Mass. Adam remembers how his father was involved with the division of forestry as a firefighter when Adam was a child. “We always prayed that he was safe and knew that he would be taken care of. At the same time, there were moments when we knew he’d been covered in flames. It was really scary. I was 8-years old at that time,” recalled Adam. He joined his dad at the Blue Mass for the first time this year. His father has come for 16 years to honor and remember his childhood friend who died in the tragedy of 9/11. Both of their fathers were firefighters and they followed in their footsteps.

In his homily, Bishop John Noonan referred to the story of Father Mychal Judge, chaplain for the New York City Fire Department, and first fatality of the 9/11 terror attacks.  The day before he died Father Judge said, “Good days and bad days. Up days. Down days. Sad days. Happy days. But never a boring day on this job. You do what God has called you to do, you show up. You put one foot in front of another. You get on the rig and you go out and you do the job — which is a mystery and a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig, no matter how big the call; no matter how small. You have no idea what God is calling you to, but he needs you. He needs all of us.”

For Deacon Sargeant Edgardo “Eddie” Cruz, he felt God not only needed him in law enforcement, but also in the diaconate. This was his first year attending as both a Florida Highway Patrol trooper and a deacon. “Being able to partake as the Deacon of the Word in the Blue Mass was an honor for me because I was amongst a lot of heroes and heroines who are willing and ready to give their lives to protect others. I was deeply moved to see so many brothers and sisters in uniform took the time to be present and be part of today’s liturgy,” he said. “As an active law enforcement officer, I can attest that with the help of God, keeping Christ as the center of my life in my professional career is possible, and I am able to use proper judgement when confronted with adversity.”

The Blue Mass is celebrated on the Feast day of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael, all who fought to defend the Word of God. Chief Pete Gauntlett of the St. Cloud Police Department noted, “St. Michael is our archangel for law enforcement and for our peacekeepers. The support of the Mass to the law enforcement community helps us in the unity that is brought forth, not only with our law enforcement peacekeepers, but the children that attend today. I think it’s vital to maintain that relationship as role models to our children, that they see for themselves with our bishops, our priests and all of our people in the Catholic Church, unified to support this worthy cause, to keep our community safe and protect our citizens.”

Patty Becker, assistant principal at St. Anthony Catholic School, Lakeland agrees. That is why she brought her 7th and 8th grade classes. “I think they need to fully enjoy the rituals of our faith and the honor that we can give back to our citizens and our community. It is a community greater than where we are locally and they need to see the bigger picture.”