22nd Annual Mass for Firefighters & EMS Personnel
‘Your Hand Stands
for Integrity and Holiness’
By Shelley Wolf, FCC Contributor

NORWICH — It was a Saturday vigil Mass like no other.

A LifeStar helicopter circled the gray spires of the Cathedral of Saint Patrick. Below, two red ladder trucks from the Taftville and Pawcatuck fire departments raised their ladders to create a memorial arch across Broadway, where together they suspended a huge American flag across the street.

Marching to the sound of the Connecticut Firefighters Pipe and Drum, uniformed firefighters paraded up Broadway, crossed into Monsignor King Park, and then entered the cathedral to begin the celebration of the 22nd Annual Mass for Firefighters and EMS Personnel on Saturday, October 18. 

This year the firefighters were welcomed by the Most Reverend Michael R. Cote, D.D., Bishop of Norwich, homilist Reverend Walter Riley, and special guest Governor Dannel P. Malloy.

In a statement before the Mass, Governor Malloy said, “Firefighters contribute so much to the foundation of our communities. Their resilience, courage, and bravery keep all of us safe, and we are forever grateful for the sacrifices they make to protect us.”

Each year the special Mass is held to honor and pray for the heroes among us in the emergency medical and firefighting services in the Diocese of Norwich and throughout the State. 

This year’s Mass began with the cathedral pipe organ and choir leading all attendees in singing “Lift High the Cross.”

Bishop Cote welcomed the firefighters, their families, and all invited guests. “You care for others’ needs and give a marvelous example of service to others,” he told the firefighters and EMS personnel. “Thank God for your blessing to serve others because it is indeed a blessing.”

Bishop Cote also took a moment to remember all those lost in the line of service, especially the recent deaths this year of Deputy Chief David Fiori of the New Britain Fire Department and Firefighter Kevin Bell of the Hartford Fire Department.

This year’s invited homilist was Reverend Walter Riley, who serves as Catholic Chaplain of the Worcester Fire Department, Pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Worcester, and Director of Priest Personnel for the Diocese of Worcester.

In his homily, Father Riley commented on the liturgical reading of Matthew 22:15-21 in which the Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus by asking him “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

In response, Jesus asked to see the coin that paid the census tax. The Pharisees handed the Roman coin over to Jesus, who then asked whose image and inscription were on the coin. When the Pharisees said it was Caesar’s, Jesus said “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 

In his homily, Father Riley explained that “the coin” that is owed to Caesar represents the secular world we live in. “It represents every person you will ever serve now and in the future,” he told the firefighters and emergency responders. 

“In its image are thousands of people you will serve that you do not even know,” he said. “They’re counting on you to extend the care, the mercy, and the love they need in extreme moments of difficulty.”

Father Riley also explained the symbolism of the different hands that held the coin, as the coin passed from the hands of the Pharisees to Jesus. “You are the hand of Christ,” he emphasized. “You hold the coin of our community, our secular world. Your hand stands for integrity and holiness,” he explained.

“Know that your assistance and willingness to assist is more profound when you see yourself as the hand of Christ,” Father Riley said. “You have many opportunities to be Christ to others in word and in deed.”

Following Communion, the Connecticut Firefighters Pipe and Drum played the meditation hymn “Amazing Grace,” which resounded throughout the cathedral.

Then the entire congregation recited a prayer for the intercession of St. Florian, patron saint of firefighters, and St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of emergency medical personnel.

In a sobering reminder of the dangers of the job, various personnel read aloud the “Roll of Honor,” which listed the names of 40 firefighters and emergency responders who were killed in Connecticut in the line of duty since 1993. It was especially poignant when individual firefighters and EMS workers stepped up one-by-one to announce the names of their fallen colleagues. The mention of each name was followed by the clanging of a memorial bell.

Bishop Cote stepped down from the altar to offer a special blessing for the families of this year’s fallen firefighters, David Fiori and Kevin Bell.

The Mass concluded with the Presentation of the Colors by the Color Guards and the singing of the hymn “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” Mass was followed by a reception in the church hall for all attendees.

Save the date: Next year’s Mass for Firefighters and EMS Personnel will be celebrated on October 15, 2015 at 5:00 p.m.