By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
The diocesan Celebration of Law Enforcement – widely known as the Blue Mass – marked its 15th anniversary April 1 with the mix of faith, pageantry and pathos that has been its bittersweet hallmark since the event began at the turn of the 21st century.
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Hundreds of smartly turned out law enforcement officers from scores of departments and associations throughout the Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties formed a long, blue line in front of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral , Trenton, as they prepared once again to participate in the Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Their presence sparked excited cheers from tots across the street at a day care center where it’s become a tradition for children and staff to stand on the sidewalk and watch the assembly gather and then file into the cathedral.
After the officers filed into the cathedral and the colors were posted, dozens of flags carried by color guards added to the drama of the morning. So did the skirling of the haunting Celtic lament “The Minstrel Boy” as the tribute to those fallen and those who still serve commenced.
More than 650 officers, civic officials and civilians listened intently as Bishop O’Connell offered a compelling and timely homily, signaling his understanding of the often difficult and stressful mission of those “who protect and serve us” in the four counties of the Diocese.
“When we encounter evil in the world – and there is plenty of it – our response might be to turn away from God, to reject God, event to doubt God’s existence,” he began citing murder, assault, rape, drug abuse, gang violence, burglary, rampant disregard for others, for life and for property” as some of the plagues that “the women and men in law enforcement face each day.”
“And yet, on the other hand,” he continued, “the evil we see in the world” might have the opposite effect: “we may come to realize that God is our only hope; that god alone helps us make sense of the world; that God is, as the Psalm proclaims today, ‘our stronghold.”
It is that “affirmation of our faith and trust in God – that we celebrate each year in the Annual Blue Mass.”
Speaking directly to those assembled before him, the Bishop described the Blue Mass as “our annual opportunity in the Diocese of Trenton to recognize you, the women and men who protect and serve … as law enforcement professionals, to thank you, to lift you up to god in prayer, regardless of your particular religious beliefs, to raise you up and ask Almighty God to watch over you, to care for you, to protect you, the way a father watches over and cares for and protects his children.”
The Blue Mass, he said, is a celebration of faith, “a faith that is sometimes tested by the darker side of human life…” but which enables “we who are believers to see with different eyes the mysterious hand of God … ‘’
It is this faith which “above all, brings us peace so that we need not be troubled and afraid.”
Brick Ptl. Chris Gesky was among many who were moved by the bishop’s homily. At the luncheon in the church hall after the Mass, Ptl. Gesky, who has made it a point to be present at the Blue Mass for four years, said he appreciated the support and sense of faith that the Bishop expressed.
“With this job, you need a lot of faith. When you are dealing with what we are dealing with day after day, when you see what we have to go through, you know how important faith is,” Gesky said.
Gesky said he appreciates the Blue Mass every year because it offers law enforcement officers the change to gather, to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and those who have lost loved ones in the line of duty.
“It is good to get together,” he said. “It’s important.”
Participating in the Mass was Special Agent Joseph A. Bodnar of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; who proclaimed the First Reading and Tpr. 1. Gerald Omeda, N.J. State Police who proclaimed the Second Reading. Sgt. Jason McCauley of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and Lacey Township Sgt. Michael Hein recited the prayers of the faithful.
Members of Garden State C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) and Survivors of the Triangle, a chapter of C.O.P.S. presented the gifts.
Coordinated under the chairmanship of Retired Lt. Howard “Buddy” Allaire of the Trenton Police Department, the committee includes members of local and county departments; the N.J. Fraternal Order of Police; the State Troopers Fraternal Association; N.J. Department of Corrections; the State Police; U.S. Customs & Border Protection; U.S. Marshals Service; Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the N.J. State Assoc. of Chiefs of Police; the N.J. State Policemen’s Benevolent Association and the U.S. Secret Service among others.
At the luncheon which followed the Mass, Allaire said this year’s celebration reflected a “nice turnout. There was a lot of support from the State Police,” said Allaire estimating that 75 members of the state police were in attendance.
“There were 200 corrections officers present,” he said. “Almost every department in Mercer County was represented” he said and there was strong representation from Ocean, Monmouth and Burlington as well.”
“I’ve been involved (with the Blue Mass) since day one,” said Allaire. “Like the Bishop said, it is a day to offer law enforcement officers up to God, to thank them and appreciate them. It’s a very nice thing for the diocese to do.”