ROCHESTER — Police officers are pillars of strength in our communities, the people the public turns to when serious trouble arises.
Yet like everyone else — and perhaps more so — police need prayers and support, a fact evidenced by the attendance of numerous uniformed men and women at the annual Blue Mass for law enforcement Oct. 25 at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Several reminders surfaced before the 11:15 a.m. liturgy that officers’ lives are fragile because of the work they do. In his welcoming remarks to the congregation, for example, Fairport Police Chief Samuel Farina Jr. asked for prayers for New York City Officer Randolph Holder, who was shot to death in the line of duty Oct. 20. Farina went on to note that since Jan. 1, 2015, a total of 101 law-enforcement officers across the nation had been killed on the job. He also made special mention of Rochester Police Officer Daryl Pierson, who was gunned down Sept. 3, 2014, while on duty on Hudson Avenue. In July, his killer, Thomas Johnson III, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
"The dangers of the job are very real, but this does not deter our obligation," Farina said. He added that he considers himself to be carrying out God’s work as a police official, and asked those in attendance to pray for God "to safeguard those who are doing his work on a daily basis."
Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, who presided at the Blue Mass, called for a moment of silence after Communion to pray for officers whose lives have been lost to violent acts. And during his homily, Bishop Matano told the law-enforcement officials, "Indeed you place your lives at risk so that others might enjoy the benefits of a free society. What more could you give to your brothers and sisters than the personal sacrifices you make to defend our communities and to assist those who suffer persecution, violence, prejudice and ridicule?" The bishop also cited John 13:15: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
The bishop continued: "Your selfless gift calls upon all of us to work for peace in our homes, our communities, our state, nation and world. The constant and tragic loss of life in violence is a mandate to local, national and international leaders to seek peace and justice, to find resolutions that do not destroy God’s precious gift of life."
Blue Mass honors law enforcement
Webster Police Chief Joseph Rieger need look no further than his own town for examples of the dangers awaiting police and other emergency personnel. On Dec. 24, 2012, two Webster volunteer firefighters, Tomasz Kaczowka and Mike Chiapperini, were shot to death and two others were injured in an ambush while responding to a fire William Spengler had deliberately set in his lakeside home.
Rieger said the attack on his town’s emergency workers serves as a reminder that violent crime, although heavily concentrated in urban areas, "knows no boundary." The inner-city killing of Daryl Pierson also "hits home to all police officers," he added.
Rieger told the Catholic Courier he’s thankful for the opportunity to take part in the Blue Mass, which honors police from various Rochester-area agencies.
"It’s a show of support that they have the Mass for us, especially in times when police are not held in the best light," said Rieger, a parishioner of St. Paul in Webster. He lamented the sometimes negative public perception of law-enforcement officers, even though he said the great majority strive to keep the public safe at all costs.
Positive perceptions were in abundance at the Blue Mass, however. In addition to the large turnout and Bishop Matano’s words of praise and gratitude, the day’s highlights included a distribution of rosaries as participants entered the cathedral; an honor guard representing several police agencies; bagpipe and drum music from the Gates Keystone Club; a powerful a capella rendition of "God Bless America" by Officer Michael Ciulla of the Rochester Police Department; Bishop Matano posing for a group photograph with several dozen law-enforcement officials outside the cathedral after Mass; and a Knights of Columbus-sponsored reception in the cathedral’s narthex.