By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “You are often the ones first on the scene of tragedy. First on the scene to protect us. First on the scene to help and assist. And often while everyone else is running away from calamity, you are racing toward it,” Bishop Martin Amos told first responders during the first Scott County-wide Blue Mass.
The first responders — including dispatchers, police officers, firefighters, medics and others — attended the Blue Mass on May 13 at St. Paul the Apostle Church. The parish’s Knights of Columbus Council organized the Mass and reception afterwards.
During his homily, the bishop also pointed out the difficulty of a first responder’s profession. “It is one that requires courage and often the ability and wisdom to make very serious decisions on the spot. You risk your lives for us. For that reason not only do we thank God for you but we pray for you, your families and your communities.”
The Blue Mass was a votive Mass for peace and justice. Bishop Amos prayed for peace and justice for the responders, their families and the community. “But we are also asking for these gifts of peace and justice as the Scriptures describe them.”
Biblical justice addresses wholeness or completeness, the bishop said. It calls for equity, fairness and care for the most vulnerable. Justice “calls for breaking down divisions and ultimately involves our personal, continuing transformation and the community’s continuing transformation to achieve that wholeness — that justice.”
Biblical peace, he said, means more than the absence of strife; it leads to justice. In Hebrew Scriptures, one of the most important words for justice is the Hebrew word “shalom,” or peace. It can be a blessing, greeting, farewell, statement of fact, a hope for the future or a prayer. In the New Testament peace can mean general wholeness, economic prosperity, security, political stability or spiritual unity.
The bishop quoted St. John Paul II, who once said, “Gestures of peace are possible when people appreciate fully the community dimension in their lives, so that they grasp the meaning and consequences of their own communities in the world.”
“Certainly you as first responders appreciate the community dimensions of your lives. But what does this peace look like?” the bishop asked. Peace is not the absence of activity, frustration, turmoil. It is an inner energy. No one’s life is entirely free from tempest and tumult, he said. “No life is free from problems.” Even Christ experienced tempest and tumult, the bishop said. At the Last Supper, everything was about to explode, and Christ says “peace is my farewell gift to you.” People experience harmony when relationships with God, with themselves and the community are in proper order, the bishop continued. In closing his homily, he thanked the first responders for what they do and prayed that the “Lord make you instruments of his peace and his justice. May God protect you and keep you safe.”
Toward the end of Mass the bishop blessed medals for the first responders. Father Tony Herold, the parish’s pastor, invited law enforcement and medics to receive a medal of St. Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of police and EMTs. Firefighters were invited to receive a medal of St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters who was a firefighter himself.
After the recessional, the honor guard retired the colors. Attendees were invited to a reception in Denning Hall where first responders were asked to sign a poster and pick up their medals. Posters and cards of appreciation from St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School students decorated the hall.
Knight Mark Gassen, who organized the Mass, said, “If you count numbers as success, then yes this was a success. But the only way to judge if this was a success is the response of our first responders.”
Fr. Herold was pleased with the turnout of more than 400 people for a first-time event on a beautiful Wednesday night.
Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn, involved from the beginning in planning the event, said she was asked to provide the honor guard for Mass. She gave permission for a fire truck to hoist an American flag in front of the church. She said it was important to attend “regardless of being the fire chief. We are honoring all who serve and we are a family.”
Sgt. Mike Gonzalez of the LeClaire Police Department said he attended as a Christian. His chief reminded the department of the Mass and, after a busy day of work, Gonzalez was headed home. “I decided to come and am glad I did. It’s about fellowship of Christians, law enforcement brothers and sisters and public service.” He said it felt good to be appreciated and to see the support from the community.
Blue Grass Police Chief John Jensen has been in the police force for 27 years. “It felt like home to have something like this,” he said. With all the news involving police across the country, he said it was nice to see people appreciate what they do.