First responders honored at Public Safety Mass

WEST ROXBURY -- In his homily during the annual Mass for Public Safety Personnel and Families on Oct. 1, standing in front of police officers, firefighters, correction officers, and other first responders, Father Sean Connor, Boston police chaplain, spoke of the saints.

He spoke of St. Michael the Archangel, the guardian and defender of the Church, the leader of God's angels and patron saint of police. He spoke of St. Florian, patron saint of firefighters, an officer in the army of the Roman Empire, who organized, trained, and led fire brigades in the ancient city of Rome. He spoke of St. Therese, "The Little Flower," who embodied dedication and took her religious vows to heart, and he spoke of St. Paul, patron saint of public workers, and one of the most influential of Jesus' apostles.

"St. Michael and St. Florian would say to you remember your duty, remember the Commandments, remember that your sacrifice will teach you and others how to love. St. Therese would say listen to the vows that you made, how they inspire others," said Father Connor.

"St. Paul would say to you, Christ clothed himself, putting on their flesh, and when he did that he began to save us," he continued.

Held this year at St. Theresa of Avila Church in West Roxbury, the Mass for Public Safety Personnel and Families annually honors police officers, firefighters, EMTs, corrections officers, and other first responders throughout the archdiocese.

Like the Red Mass for those in the legal profession and the White Mass for those in the medical field, the Public Safety Mass had been a longstanding tradition in the archdiocese until the early 2000s. The Mass was revived in 2014 through a collaboration of the archdiocese's Office of Chaplaincy Programs and Office of Divine Worship with the goal of honoring all those who serve their communities in uniform.

It began with the blaring of bagpipes and beating of drums as law enforcement and fire honor guards processed into the church, as public safety personnel, their families, and parishioners watched from the pews.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was the main celebrant of the Mass, and Father Connor was the homilist.

Speaking to the first responders in the church, Father Connor said that God's power is mercy, and in sacrifice, in selflessness, joy can be found.

"We would say to you, as we thank you for your service, that your duty is where you will find your joy, your sacrifice is where you will find your joy. By loving selflessly and being a leader in that, you find joy and happiness, God's blessings and peace," he said.

He concluded with words of gratitude for first responders.

"Thank you for your service. Thank you for responding and saying yes to protecting others, especially the weak and gentle. We ask you to stand up strong and proud, because you have been called to be different. As others run away from harm, you run towards it, to protect," he said.

"God bless you all."

Speaking briefly to The Pilot following the Mass, Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn thanked Cardinal O'Malley for his continued support of first responders, and for holding the Mass.

"It's very humbling that he takes time out of his busy schedule to do this," he said. "It's a great event."

In an emailed statement to The Pilot Oct. 4, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, one of the key figures behind the reinstatement of the Mass, thanked the cardinal and the archdiocese for reviving the Mass and said he could "still recall the very first discussion I had with the cardinal about the Mass when he visited the old Middlesex Jail in Cambridge."

While Koutoujian was personally unable to attend this year's Mass, a number of staff and officers from the sheriff's office were present.

"We're honored to continue to participate in this service which means so much to our officers and clergy," wrote Koutoujian.

Boston Police Department Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross also thanked the cardinal and the archdiocese for their support.

"In these trying times with a lot of anti-sentiment for first responders, especially police officers, it's nice to know that folks have our back, starting with the cardinal and the archdiocese," he said.

"When folks take the time to pray for us and our families and those of us who have made the ultimate, supreme sacrifice, we really do appreciate it. It makes us feel loved."