September 15, 2006

Blue Mass honors public safety officials killed in the line of duty

By Mary Ann Wyand

Five years after the worst terrorist attacks in the nation’s history, Marion County police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and emergency medical technicians gathered at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis for a memorial Mass to remember public safety officials who died on Sept. 11, 2001, while trying to rescue people in New York and others at the Pentagon in Washington.

The solemn liturgy held at the cemetery’s mausoleum chapel also honored Indiana police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. The fourth annual Blue Mass was sponsored by the Catholic Cemeteries Association.

Throughout the country, Americans observed the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks by mourning the 2,973 people who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

In their grief, people turn to God for care and comfort, Father Steven Schwab explained in his homily during the archdiocesan Mass for fallen public safety officials.

“That’s what faith is,” Father Schwab said. “It’s being at home with God, at home with ourselves and at home with one another.”

Home is where people experience two basic human needs—care and comfort—that are essential to their well-being, explained the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis and Catholic chaplain for the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.

“As members of the human race, we … care for one another,” Father Schwab said. “… In comforting one another, we say, ‘You are worth my time. You are worth taking care of.’ … That, I suspect, is what brought so many people back to houses of worship on the Sunday after Sept. 11. They were looking for an increased awareness of care and comfort, of meaning and worth. And they came home to find it.”

They were also expressing their “heartfelt faith in the kind of God who could say, ‘Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge,’ ” he said, “and ‘you are worth more than many sparrows.’ ”

God rarely acts alone, Father Schwab explained. “He works in and through members of the human race … [to] give care and comfort.”

He thanked members of the law enforcement, firefighting and emergency medical care ministries for offering care and comfort to others whenever the need arises and in whatever the circumstances.

“We do it every day 24-7,” Father Schwab said, “kindness in times of tragedy, rescue in times of danger, apprehension of those who have broken the law, courtesy and respect to those in custody, and sacrifice—maybe even the ultimate sacrifice—in times of emergency.”

He said God calls public safety officials to serve others in very specific ministries.

“Tonight we honor the memory of our brothers and sisters who on Sept. 11, 2001—five years ago today— gave it all they had and paid the ultimate price,” Father Schwab said. “As we honor their memory and give thanks for their witness, let us … take a moment and rededicate ourselves to this call that God in his wisdom and generosity has given us—this call to care for and comfort others
in the context of public service.

“This call is a blessing,” he said. “We need to give thanks for it and never, ever forget that it is a blessing.”

After the Mass, Marion County Sheriff Frank Anderson of Indianapolis said the anniversary of the terrorist attacks is a solemn and appropriate time for people to renew their feelings of patriotism and affirm their support for public safety officials.

“It takes a special person, first of all, to be a public safety officer,” Anderson said. “Everyone can’t sign that contract and put their life on the line for collateral. This is what the men and women do that work in public safety.”

Police officers and firefighters pledge to risk their own life in order to save lives, he said, and those who are killed in the line of duty make the supreme sacrifice and pay the ultimate price to help others.

Indianapolis Fire Department Pvt. Thomas Hanify, a member of the tactical rescue team and a St. Mary parishioner, served as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion during the Mass.

The Blue Mass was the second liturgy that Hanify, who serves as president of the 7,000-member Professional Fire Fighters Union of Indiana, attended on the anniversary of Sept. 11.

Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians are “the ultimate good Samaritans” who have sworn to serve the public with total disregard for their own safety, Hanify said after the Mass, quoting from a homily he heard preached by Father Michael O’Mara, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, earlier that day.

“It was so heroic and moving [that] we can’t even express it in words,” Hanify said of the courageous police officers and firefighters who died on Sept. 11.

Every day, firefighters and police officers are called to the scene of a burning building, water rescue, accident or domestic dispute, he said, because someone is injured and needs help.

“We lost two volunteer firefighters in Indiana in the last three months,” Hanify said, “one in southern Indiana and one in a township by Lafayette. One died in a fire, and the other was on the way to a fire and the tanker truck overturned.”

Public safety officials honor their commitment and badge, he said, by assisting people in need without hesitation.

“Most of the time, we help the elderly, children, the disabled, the disadvantaged, the poor,” Hanify said. “That’s who is most at risk, and that’s who we’re responding to [calls for help] the most. They’re at-risk people who can’t help themselves.”

Echoing Father Schwab’s homily, Hanify said, “This job is a blessing for me personally. I work with people who drop everything to help others. They put everything else aside. They are men and women with families, with loved ones. They’re wives, they’re husbands, they’re parents, and they drop everything to serve the public for the love of mankind.” †


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