Knoxville police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians were on hand Feb. 8 as Bishop Richard F. Stika presided at a Blue Mass in recognition of the public safety community.
A Knoxville Police Department honor guard, surrounded by Knights of Columbus, stood in place at Sacred Heart Cathedral as the 6:45 a.m. Mass began.
In his homily, Bishop Stika thanked the officers and firefighters for their service to the community and shared an experience that gave him an even greater appreciation for their work.
He recalled two St. Louis police officers shot in the line of duty and the call he received as a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis to anoint them as they laid dying. He also fondly remembered attending the badge ceremony when his brother, Joe, became a St. Louis police officer.
He said men and women enter public safety for a variety of reasons, but there is one common bond that links police officers, firefighters and EMTs. It’s a bond that priests and religious share.
“For one reason or another, just as I felt called to the priesthood, you have been called to law enforcement and service to the community as EMTs and firefighters and all the different agencies that make up service to one’s neighbor. In those endeavors, it’s a reminder to all of us that the mission that we are accomplishing for the greater good of the community is one that is so very important because it keeps chaos from taking over,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika pointed to the young boy who was kidnapped and held in an Alabama bunker a week ago and all the care and concern from members of the public safety community involved in his rescue.
But he said it’s also the day-to-day service from police, firefighters and EMTs that affect most people in their communities, extraordinary acts that may go unnoticed or without thanks.
“So in a very collective way as we gather together this morning and what I say in the name of all the Catholics that I’m privileged to shepherd in the Diocese of Knoxville in East Tennessee, but also all those people who you might never know whose lives are saved because of what you do. In the name of this community, I say to all of you, thank you. To the families we also give thanks because we know that without your support, they would have very great difficulty in what they do,” Bishop Stika said.
He noted that the community, “in a very particular way,” prays for those involved in law enforcement throughout the country who have given their lives. “Like a Nick Sloan or a Bob Stancy (slain St. Louis officers), or people in this community or communities throughout the nation that the Lord may receive them into his presence and they’ve heard the words, ‘Welcome, good and faithful servant, welcome to paradise.’ So I guess our prayer before almighty God this day is that you might always know of our gratefulness and that you might always be safe.”