By Patrick T. Brown | Associate Editor
Only two weeks after many of the same police men and women who lined the pews of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, had filled another church to pay tribute to a fallen brother, hundreds of those sworn to protect and serve joined Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., for the seventeenth annual diocesan Blue Mass.
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Against a backdrop of white and pastel Easter lilies, the blue uniforms of officers standing at attention matched the blue ceiling of the Cathedral as the thunder of drums and pipes resounded through the church.
Officers from all four counties as well as federal and state jurisdictions spent the morning of Tuesday of Easter Week celebrating their vocation to service amid the companionship of many fellow current and retired officers. Bishop O’Connell compared the responsibility of law enforcement – to protect, to serve, to be willing to give one’s life to protect others – to Jesus’ example during his time on earth.
“It has been a difficult year for law enforcement,” the Bishop said. “It becomes difficult to see the ‘goodness of the Lord’…The Lord Jesus Christ was misunderstood, rejected, spit upon, hated, judged, put to death for those he came to protect and serve and save. But his tragedy in the eyes of the world became triumph; his defeat in the eyes of the world became victory; his judgment in the eyes of the world became justification and glory.”
The New Jersey State Police color guard presented the colors of the state and nation before Mass, while a pipe and drum corps made up of representatives from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police, the Camden County Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, the state police, and others, processed before and after Mass and played a resonant rendition of “Amazing Grace” after Communion.
The Mass came at a poignant time in the calendar, two days after Easter and two weeks after the funeral Mass for New Jersey State Trooper Sean Eamonn Cullen, which the Bishop pointed out was a vivid illustration of the tight comradery between the men and women on police forces nationwide.
“In those solemn moments, the rituals of the NJ State Police and the Catholic faith blended together to offer hope to all present that Trooper Cullen’s life had changed, not ended,” the Bishop said. “A hope, a faith and a promise born of the Life and the Death and the Risen Life of the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘one of our own’ who died on Good Friday yet rose triumphant from his grave on Easter Sunday.
The annual Blue Mass is “important because it’s a celebration,” said Howard Allaire, the chairman of the Blue Mass committee and a retired lieutenant with the Trenton Police Department. “We have enough memorials, we have enough funerals. While we remember those officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, it’s important to celebrate law enforcement and the officers who go out there every day, and the ones who work in the jails…this really says something to them, that there are people out there supporting them.”
Roughly 300 officers attended the Mass, with the largest contingent coming from the New Jersey Department of Corrections. The New Jersey State Police also had a large group in attendance, with other officers representing the Port Authority police, the Department of Homeland Security, the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, and many others. Twenty-four flags, representing the many law enforcement agencies in attendance, were carried in before the Mass.
Msgr. Sam Sirianni, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Freehold, has been involved in the Blue Mass since its inauguration in 2000. He said that “this year I came to concelebrate and show my support to the men and women in law enforcement…I hope [the attendees] come away with the sense of the risen Lord, that the Church is supporting them and so are the people of God.”
“It gives me great joy to celebrate this day with you all,” said Bishop O’Connell, who blessed pins and prayer cards which were handed out to the officers in attendance. He was joined on the altar by nearly a dozen priests and Deacon Stephen Sansevere of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, a retired member of the Jersey City Police Department, who assisted during the Mass.
“I consider [the Bishop] to be one of our protectors,” said Juan Mattos, a United States Marshal and former lieutenant colonel with the state police. “He called us the protectors, and we look at him as our protector…The men and women who are wearing the uniform [know] there is someone out there that cares.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Schroeder proclaimed the First Reading, while N.J. State Trooper Andrew Kaczur proclaimed the Second Reading. The intercessions were read by Monmouth County Sheriff Officer Michele Mendez and Manchester Township Police Corporal Doug Higgins.
“We live in strange and difficult times,” Bishop O’Connell told the hundreds of police officers in attendance. “But the ‘goodness of the Lord’ is still here. And for most of us, you – the women and men of law enforcement – you are the embodiment of that goodness in what you do each day for us.”