“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.”
---Bishop Robert Deeley
PORTLAND---“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.”
The words of Senator Susan Collins encapsulate the palpable gratitude and respect found each year at the annual Blue Mass, celebrated this year on Sunday, September 18, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland (many additional pictures below).
The celebration is an opportunity for parishioners, community members, and Maine dignitaries to recognize the self-sacrifice of the public safety community, to remember first responders who have given their lives in the line of duty, and to pray for all those who serve so faithfully.
Ladder trucks from the Portland and South Portland Fire Departments set a tone of togetherness and thanks as arriving participants were welcomed with a large American flag displayed high above Cumberland Avenue thanks to ladder trucks from the two departments. A multi-jurisdictional color guard with representatives from different law enforcement agencies then posted the colors in the front of the sanctuary at the start of the Mass.
The pews were filled with first responders, some in uniform, from as far as southern York County and Penobscot County, and elected and former representatives from the local, state, and federal level, including Senator Collins, Governor Janet Mills, former governor Paul LePage, and former U.S. Congressman Bruce Poliquin. Law enforcement leadership was also present throughout the cathedral, including Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas, and Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck.
“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 Robert Deeley, who celebrated Sunday’s Mass. “What happened on 9/11 reminded us that we are helped greatly by those who protect us and serve us. 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.”
Fittingly, many of the Mass’ participants are also connected to the public safety community. Representatives from different public safety agencies served as gift bearers, while South Portland Police Lieutenant Todd Bernard and Portland Fire Chief Keith Gautreau served as readers. Deacon Jeffrey Lewis, who served at the Mass, is currently the chaplain for the Augusta and Gardiner fire departments, was 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 Universal Prayer.
The bishop 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 September 11th 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.”
“I think what the bishop 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,” said Governor Janet Mills.
For those currently serving, 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 the bishop after the Mass.
The Blue Mass is a venerable tradition in the Diocese of Portland that never loses its luster as it acknowledges that our lives are a gift from God, given to us that we might in turn give our lives in service to Him and to others. This truth is one virtually ingrained into the lives of police, fire, and rescue personnel who, day in and day out, put their lives on the line for the common good.
“You, our first responders, protect the right that all of us have to safety, to private property, and to life itself,” said the bishop. “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. 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.”
After the Mass, a reception was held on the lawn of the cathedral, offering the community and dignitaries with an opportunity to thank their heroes in person on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Portland.