Courage, self-sacrifice of first responders recognized at Blue Mass

PORTLAND, Maine (CNS) -- The Diocese of Portland recognized the service and sacrifice of first responders throughout the state of Maine at its annual Blue Mass, celebrated this year Sept. 18 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.

"In the midst of a fractured and divided society, you go about trying to keep order. We pray for you today, grateful for your service, and asking God to bless you all," said Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland during the Mass.

"This is a special celebration. These courageous men and women put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. We must always say thank you," said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, at the Mass.

The Blue Mass is named for the blue uniforms that firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders wear.

"We gather for the Blue Mass to honor all those law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency personnel of our communities who offer us heroic service day in and day out," said Bishop Deeley, who was the celebrant.

"What happened on 9/11 reminded us that we are helped greatly by those who protect us and serve us," he added. "We need to pause to realize that we encourage them by our thanks.

"And in so doing, we show them a respect which might help our young people to realize that service as a first responder is a valuable way to strengthen the bonds of our community."

First responders protect "the right that all of us have to safety, to private property, and to life itself," Bishop Deeley continued. "That is what makes the jobs you do so very important to all of us. You have responded to a call to serve the community, the common good, to build a just society, and to protect the vulnerable."

The Blue Mass is an opportunity for parishioners, community members and Maine dignitaries "to recognize the self-sacrifice of the public safety workers, to remember first responders who have given their lives in the line of duty and to pray for all those who serve so faithfully," the diocese said in a news release.

Besides Collins, present and past elected officials inside the cathedral included Gov. Janet Mills, former Gov. Paul LePage and former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

Many of the Massgoers had connections to public safety. Deacon Jeffrey Lewis, who served at the Mass, is currently the chaplain for the Augusta and Gardiner fire departments; he had been an EMS provider for over 38 years and has served as a firefighter.

"For all whose vocation it is to protect and serve the public, that they may be strengthened in their dedication to the common good, we pray to the Lord," said Deacon Lewis during the general intercessions.

Bishop Deeley told those gathered that the current climate is a difficult one for public safety agencies, who suffer from a lack of staffing and other challenges.

"The Sept. 11 news this year reported on the difficulty of recruiting new members for our local police departments. The same challenge is there for recruiting the personnel at our jails, or our local first responders who work in EMS, or the other services which keep us safe and are there to help us when things go wrong," said Bishop Deeley.

"I think it important to raise up the challenge this has been for our first responders. Our gathering to thank them in this celebration has to be also an opportunity to resolve to appreciate their most important place in our society each day of the year," he added.

Mills said what Bishop Deeley said "is so important."

"In addition to honoring the amazing commitment and dedication of our first responders, we need to let this occasion serve as a reminder of how low the numbers are in most departments and how crucial it is that we face that challenge," she said.

For those currently serving as first responders, the Mass, its message and the hope it inspired filled their hearts.

"Thank you so much for doing this. It means more than you can possibly know," a Kennebunk police officer told Bishop Deeley after Mass.