PROVIDENCE — The Diocese of Providence honored the efforts of all first responders as it celebrated its fourth annual Mass for Public Safety on Sunday, Sept. 29 at the Cathedral of SS. Peter & Paul.
About 50 personnel representing Police, Fire and EMS departments across Rhode Island, as well as representatives of the state’s Department of Corrections, processed into the cathedral behind an honor guard, including a bagpiper from Providence Fire Pipes and Drums, for the 10 a.m. Mass, which was celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans.
Bishop Evans, who also served as homilist, related the words of the morning’s second reading — in which St. Paul encourages Timothy to serve as a bishop of “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness,” to those entrusted to his care — to all emergency workers.
In those early days of the Church, when Christians were widely persecuted, a bishop was responsible for not only the spiritual care, but also the physical safety of his flock.
“You exercise authority and are often called upon to make difficult judgments under adverse circumstances,” Bishop Evans told the first responders, who represented many cities and towns including Providence, North Providence, East Providence, Cranston, Warwick, West Warwick, Woonsocket, North Kingstown, Little Compton and Watch Hill, as well as the State Police.
“That is, you have a responsibility to protect those threatened by violence, those manipulated by unscrupulous people, those whose rights are violated or whose property and goods are in jeopardy; but you are to do so within the framework of rules and regulations imposed upon you.”
The local community looks to first responders to help safeguard their rights and ensure their well-being so that they can live their lives in safety and security, he added, noting how God granted King Solomon wisdom so that he could be judicious in serving his people.
“In serving your fellow citizens in this fashion, you risk your life day-in and day-out; whenever you wear the uniform, walk the beat, staff the firehouse, race to an emergency, or investigate a crime, you are always in harm’s way. You leave your home or office or station never sure what that day will bring; as the saying goes, when others run from danger, you run toward danger,” Bishop Evans said.
Father Joseph Escobar, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish and chaplain of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, was a concelebrant at the Mass.
“The police, fire and other first responders feel affirmed by this, knowing that their work is recognized and valued. We pray for God’s blessing upon them for what they do in very difficult circumstances,” Father Escobar said.
Deacon Scott Brown, a former Navy firefighter who serves as chaplain of both the Cranston Fire Department and the Veteran’s Home, in addition to his service as deacon for the combined parish of SS. John and James and St. Mary in West Warwick, assisted at the Mass.
“It is such a difficult vocation of service to others, where these first responders risk their very lives and they do it on a daily basis,” he said.
Randy Hoxsie, a Warwick firefighter, said the annual Mass of Thanksgiving for first responders means a great deal to them as they share a similar mission with the Church.
“We help people, the Church helps people, we’re all on board for the same end goal,” he said.
Tiverton Fire Chief Joe Mollo said that first responders rely on their strong faith every day to help them to deal with those in need that they tend to.
“We all depend on our faith to get us through some trying times and having this special Mass for us in this profession is very meaningful to us. It makes us feel that everyone is praying for us,” he said.
Warwick Fire Chief Peter McMichael said it was important for police, fire and emergency medical personnel to be honored in this way.
“It’s special for everyone here today. It’s nice to bring fire and police together,” he said.
Col. David Tikoian, chief of the North Providence Police Department, said as he prepared for the Mass that the message he and his colleagues would hear would be an uplifting one that would later carry them through the difficult times they will face later in the field.
“With law enforcement across the country, the officers and their families face difficult challenges day in and day out, and this Mass gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on what our responsibilities are to serve and protect the public and that piece of spiritual guidance that we receive today will go a long way to augment those officers’ performances,” he said.
Rhode Island Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré, who offered the first reading at the Mass, said the annual occasion is an important one for all first responders, as it reinforces for them the community’s great appreciation for the heroic work they do and the sacrifices they must make in their service to others.
“It’s a difficult job for both police and fire and they really are heroes among our community and across the country. So whenever we stop and pray and reflect and thank them it’s special for them and they appreciate it as we do,” Commissioner Paré said.