By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 20, 2018
ATLANTA— On the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Atlanta emergency workers were honored at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
Outside the cathedral a large American flag flew high above the streets between two Atlanta Fire Rescue ladder trucks. The skirl of bagpipes marked the somber occasion for reflection and prayer.
Filling the ornate stone cathedral were dozens of uniformed members of police, firefighters and other rescue workers from around the Atlanta area. Students from Christ the King School, along with many others, came together to worship at the morning Mass on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
It was the fourth annual Blue Mass in Atlanta. Msgr. Frank McNamee, the rector of the cathedral, celebrated the Mass, along with Father Kevin Peek and Msgr. Edward Dillon, pastor of Atlanta’s Holy Spirit Church, and assisted by deacons.
“You in law enforcement and public safety by your presence, your courage, your compassion and your call to duty, come what may, are messengers of hope as Christ calls all of us to be,” said Msgr. McNamee.
Prayers were said for women and men who have been “injured or paid the ultimate price while simply doing their duty, a duty that is essential for the stability of society.”
“‘Ordinary’ people came together”
The Mass included a blessing of badges and a saluting of memorial wreaths by leaders from the Atlanta Police and Atlanta Fire Rescue departments. The wreaths were posted in front of the St. Mary and St. Joseph altars in the church, honoring those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, following terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania. Of the 2,977 victims, 343 were New York City firefighters and 60 were New York City or Port Authority police officers.
In his homily, Msgr. McNamee emphasized the importance of remembering the events of 9/11, where “ordinary” people came together to aid others, in spite of the evil unleashed that day.
“Seventeen years ago ordinary men and women on an ordinary September morning heading to an ordinary day’s work had no idea that thousands of them would lose their lives to such acts of evil. But many ordinary citizens and first responders came together to help in whatever way was humanly possible,” said the monsignor.
He said emergency workers fulfill Catholic social teaching to seek the common good, to aid and serve the community, especially those in need of protection. “Sadly too often we take for granted their courage, their heroism, their sacrifices and that of their families, who worry about them,” he said.
People “watch with awe” as first responders go about their work, responding to tragedies, he said. “They should be noticed, appreciated and prayed for every day as they perform their duty every day. We pray for their safety.”
In the United States, the Blue Mass tradition began in 1934, when Father Thomas Dade of the Archdiocese of Baltimore formed the Catholic Police and Firemen’s Society. Father Dade celebrated the first Blue Mass for police and firefighters.
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. Bagpiper Tom Crawford played “Amazing Grace.”
A sacred pledge of remembrance
In their remarks during the morning ceremony, leaders of the Atlanta Fire and Rescue and Atlanta Police Department expressed appreciation for the service.
Atlanta Fire Chief Randall Slaughter recalled the morning of 9/11.
“Our beloved nation was changed forever,” said Chief Slaughter. The passage of time means the majority of police and firefighters on duty today were either very young or early in their careers, he said.
“On the days following that dreadful day 17 years ago, we made a solemn and sacred pledge to never forget,” he said.
He remembers the victims with a pin on his uniform of 343 for the firefighters killed in the attacks. “I intend, as your fire chief, to honor those words,” he said.
He suggested three ways to help others honor those who lost their lives: don’t take any day for granted; love and cherish family and friends; and remember to honor service members in the military.
Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Glazier said the Mass was an honor to attend.
“It is important that we are all here today to celebrate this day, to remember our brothers and sisters who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. It really keeps the rest of our lives in perspective. We are bombarded with things that are really not important, the minor squabbles, the complaints, the bad customer service. It puts our lives in perspective on what’s important, and that’s to cherish family and friends,” said Deputy Chief Glazier.
After Mass, the men and women were treated to lunch in the parish hall. They found on their tables scores of handmade greeting cards written by students thanking them for their public service.
Attending the service for the second year were Jeff and Jamie Graebner, with their six children. Jeff said he wants his children to commemorate the day, see the police and firefighters and learn of their sacrifice. The family also has a tradition to pause and pray, if possible, when they see a clock approaching 9:11, he said.
“We try to pray in a special way for those we lost on 9/11,” said the young father, 34, who was in his first year at the University of Notre Dame on the morning of the terror attacks.
“I just remember hearing it in the dorm. I thought it was crazy,” said Jeff Graebner. Classes were cancelled, and the university community came together for Mass on the school quad, he said.
Jeri and Carl Wagner, who worship at St. Marguerite d’Youville Church, Lawrenceville, have attended the Mass over the past few years. The couple said they go both to remember the victims of the terrorist attack, but also to pray for the safety of their son, who is a police officer in Cobb County. The two of them wore T-shirts expressing support for police.
“It’s an honor to come and pay our respects” to the women and men in uniform, said Jeri Wagner.