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St. Peter Martyr
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Blue Mass honors those who say,
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placeholder October 27, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA

Police officers, firefighters and other first-responders pray during the Blue Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light on Oct. 9.
josÉ luis aguirre/The Catholic Voice

Blue Mass honors those who say,
'I can make a difference'

A lone bagpiper led three dozen uniformed officers, walking in pairs, into the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

The color guard of the Pittsburg Police Department — flag bearers flanked by rifle-carrying officers — followed, four abreast.

With the swords raised, and red purple and white feathers, the Knights of Columbus stood as honor guard.

More uniformed officers followed, bearing the crucifix and candles.

Eight priests, most of them chaplains to police and firefighters throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties followed, led by Revs. Helmut Richter and Jayson Landeza, who had organized the day's event.

At the end of the line walked the bishop of Oakland, the Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ, — himself a chaplain in the Navy Reserve — who would celebrate the Blue Mass.

Outside the cathedral, firefighters raised the American flag between two Oakland Fire Department ladder trucks.

At the beginning of the Mass — named for the predominant color of the uniform worn by officers — the bishop prayed that "God will protect you in your dedicated service."

The Mass, too, would "honor in a special way those who have given their lives," he said.

At the altar, a police hat and a firefighter's helmet were placed on pedestals, in silent tribute, to those who have been lost in the line of duty or as retirees.

The Blue Mass, said Father Larry Young, who gave the homily, "reminds us in our world that there are those who care."

"Everyone knows the risks in this work," said the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Rodeo. "But this person says, 'I can make a difference.'"

A police officer, firefighter or first-responder begins a shift with some uncertainty. "You don't know what you'll face," he said.

Drawing on the day's Gospel reading, Father Young reminded them, "You have to trust that God loves you and cares about you and is going to help you when you go into the streets."

Respect might be lacking in those streets. "We're human beings. We don't like to be laughed at or be disrespected be spat upon," he said. Criminals, he reminded them, learn that behavior.

"See in everyone the good," he said, "but also use common sense. Don't forget who you are. God does travel with you."

On bad days, on long shifts and during trying circumstances, Father Young encouraged them to "draw on that strength. Ask God to help you get through that moment. Remember all the good you have done."

At the end of the Mass, the bishop recalled those who have died, or "passed from this duty station to the next."

"In a special way," BART police officer Tommy Smith was remembered by name. Smith, a graduate of Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward, was killed in the line of duty in January.

The bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" during the memorial tribute.

The youngest people in uniform in the cathedral were Explorers trained by the El Cerrito Police Department. The three students at El Cerrito High School are all contemplating careers in law enforcement.

Andrea Walle, 13, said the tribute was moving. "I like to help the community," she said. The police are there for a good reason, she said, "to help people."

Miguel Ponchione, 16, said he had been considering a military career, but serving in law enforcement would give him the opportunity to serve closer to home and help out his own community.

Selia Walle, 14, is new to the Explorers and liking, she said, "everything" about service.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan sat in a front pew during the Blue Mass. "I want to thank the bishop for starting this Mass," she said afterward. "Our officers are under so much pressure; these events are so healing."

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