Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By David Pace
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory talks with officers of the Atlanta Police Department just before the opening of the second annual Blue Mass on Sept. 9. At the Mass, he spoke of the nation's need to rebuild trust between communities and to seek substantial solutions to an epidemic of violence.


At Blue Mass, archbishop prays trust will grow in divided communities

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published September 13, 2016

ATLANTA—Two days before the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, worshipers prayed for peace and gave thanks for the sacrifices of first responders at the second annual Blue Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also designated Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver, as a National Day of Prayer for Peace.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the Blue Mass with the special intention of “peace in our communities.”

Aerial ladders from Atlanta Fire Rescue companies raise the American flag outside the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, on Friday, Sept. 9. The Blue Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory for first responders. Photo By David Pace

Aerial ladders from Atlanta Fire Rescue companies raise the American flag outside the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, on Friday, Sept. 9. The Blue Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory for first responders. Photo By David Pace

Students from Christ the King School joined community members, chiefs and members of the Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, and other metro area first responders at the Mass. Outside the church, a large American flag billowed high above the street, suspended between the raised ladders of two fire apparatus.

In his homily, Archbishop Gregory said a time of prayer is needed particularly this year when protests have erupted against police in several cities, and they themselves have been the targets of snipers. Public servants need public support, he said.

“These fine men and women need to know of our respect, gratitude and support more today than ever before,” he said.

He added that prayer is also needed because communities have seen men of color killed when the use of such force by police was questionable.

“We people of color likewise urgently need today’s prayerful pause as well since we have too frequently endured the awful burden of seeing our young men cut down by aggressive law enforcement actions,” said Archbishop Gregory, chair of the U.S. bishops’ new task force on race.

“Guns and violence, harsh rhetoric and vitriol, blame and accusation have become an undesirable part of our everyday life during this passing year,” he said.

The Gospel reading from Luke’s sixth chapter suggests that there are beams in our nation’s eye inhibiting its people from seeing and appreciating viewpoints other than their own, said the archbishop.

Solutions needed, not “facile phrases”

Too frequently, he noted, simplistic solutions are offered to the great moral and ethical challenges facing the country.

“Each such suggestion begs the question of why we continue to have so many acts of violence and what can we do to stem this epidemic of hatred and misunderstanding. We need to seek systemic solutions rather than simply crafting more facile phrases,” said Archbishop Gregory. “We need to see one another as fellow human beings with the inherent God-given dignity that belongs to each person.”

At the conclusion of the Blue Mass, Chief Joel G. Baker of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department salutes before a memorial honoring those who died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001, and within the Atlanta community. Photo By David Pace

At the conclusion of the Blue Mass, Chief Joel G. Baker of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department salutes before a memorial honoring those who died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001, and within the Atlanta community. Photo By David Pace

The archbishop upheld St. Peter Claver as an example. The saint labored for 33 years in Cartagena, Colombia, the slave port of the New World, ministering to abjectly abused African slaves with kindness and seeing them with the “eyes of his heart.” He went into the holds of slave ships to care for the sick and dying, taught the faith, and worked to end the slave trade.

“We need to rely on actions that speak louder than the harsh rhetoric that so abounds in our world today,” Archbishop Gregory said.

First responders regularly encounter people in moments of great fear, anger or confusion.

“They must behold in you the eyes of security, welcome, comfort and strength,” the archbishop told those in uniform.

He added, “All of us, in turn, need to recall that those who serve us in public office are very much like ourselves—ordinary men and women who seek to do nothing more than their best in keeping us safe and secure.”

Archbishop Gregory emphasized that both citizens and first responders, and men and women of every race and background, should speak with their hearts to convey respect.

“Today, we pray for peace throughout this local Atlanta community during the coming year—we pray for a healing of old hurts and slights and suspicions—no matter how painful or ancient,” he said. “May the beams and splinters that may have lodged deep within too many of our eyes be used to build bridges of compassion and trust during the coming year.”

Atlanta chiefs remember 9/11 fallen

In the United States, the Blue Mass tradition began in 1934 when Father Thomas Dade of Baltimore formed the Catholic Police and Fireman’s Society and celebrated the first Mass for police officers and firemen.

Soloist Natalye Howard sang the national anthem as the honor guards of the police and fire departments and the City of Atlanta Department of Corrections presented the colors. The honor guards also saluted memorial wreaths for lives lost in public service to others.

Bagpiper Tommy Burns of the Cobb County Police Department played “Amazing Grace.”

Atlanta Police Chief George N. Turner speaks to the congregation at the conclusion of the Blue Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King. This was the second annual Blue Mass in the Atlanta Archdiocese. Photo By David Pace

The Mass included a blessing of badges that those who wear them serve with devotion, justice and peace.

Together, the congregation prayed the “Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.”

Atlanta Police Chief George N. Turner and Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Joel G. Baker thanked the community for support.

Turner reflected on the Scripture verse, “For greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

“These words mean so much to me,” said Turner.

He remembered sacrifices made 15 years ago by first responders in the terrorist attacks when 2,977 people were killed in the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a field in western Pennsylvania where a hijacked plane crashed as passengers fought back.

“September 11 is forever etched in the history books of America. Most of us can recall where we were and what we were doing that day,” he said.

In New York, 343 firefighters, 23 police officers and 37 officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey died in the line of duty Sept. 11, 2001.

The oath that officers take is a daily reminder when called out to serve, regardless of the situation, the Atlanta chief said.

“We’ve accepted this responsibility and must never forget that,” said Turner.

Baker also paid tribute to the peers and brothers who gave their lives for others on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We shall never forget that,” said Baker.

The fire chief said there is one thought that sticks in his mind daily: “Everyone must go home safe.”

He wishes there was no need for public acknowledgement of lives lost by public servants.

“The reality is, we must,” said Baker.

He recognized the courage of Atlanta’s firefighters as well.

“Some have given their lives to the city in debts we can never repay,” said the chief.

CKS students cheer for officers

Following the recessional song of “God Bless America,” Christ the King students lined the hallway outside for a mini-pep rally for public safety workers. They cheered, applauded and gave high fives to the first responders.

Officers and firefighters stopped to take cell phone pictures with their young supporters and were later treated to a hearty buffet in Kenny Hall.

Handmade greeting cards, created and colored by the children, served as table centerpieces for the lunch as well as take-home souvenirs.

One, signed by Carter, read, “Dear Hero, Thank you for all you do in our community. You are so brave. Thank you for fighting fires. I know that it is scary, but you are brave.”

Cathedral parishioners Barbara and Fred Johansen attended the Mass to show their gratitude to public safety officials.

Atlanta firefighters and police department personnel receive cheers, applause and high-fives from Christ the King School students after the Blue Mass celebrated at the cathedral Sept. 9. Photo By David Pace

“I was levitated out of here,” said Mrs. Johansen about the beauty of the celebration. “They totally give and we are so blessed.”

Mr. Johansen knows how busy Atlanta’s first responders are. The couple lives along Peachtree Road and hears sirens throughout the day. An Air Force veteran, Johansen feels it’s important to support first responders and the nation.

“I’m a flag-waver to the nth-degree,” he said.

Sgt. Jack Bentley, of the Atlanta Police Department fugitive unit, attended the Mass and luncheon with his mother, Betty, and a family friend.

A member of St. Clare of Assisi Mission in Acworth, Bentley followed an older sister, Deborah, into a career in law enforcement.

“With everything you see … it’s nice to know somebody actually appreciates you,” said Bentley.

Deacon Hilliard Lee, of St. Paul of the Cross Church in Atlanta, is chaplain for the Atlanta Police Department.

He enjoys a good rapport with officers, taking time to tease honor guard members about eating too many cookies after lunch.

“I’ve been there 24 years,” he said.

He serves Catholics and non-Catholics in his chaplaincy.

“When the phone rings, there’s no name beside it,” said Deacon Lee. “There’s a call to service.”

There is something everyone can do for public servants, suggested the deacon.

“They all need our prayers. We need to learn more about what they do,” he said.

Being first responders comes with many strains on their family lives, he said. The people who choose that type of service have unique abilities.

“It’s life or death. It’s not in everybody,” he said about the calling. “I do what I can to support them.”