Archbishop to first responders: “We thank you.”

SF Police Fire Sheriff Memorial Mass held on 9-11 at cathedral

By Valerie Schmalz

Uniformed police, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies stood saluting in silent tribute of their comrades who had died, as the haunting notes of ‘Taps’ filled the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption at the annual San Francisco Police-Fire-Sheriff Memorial Mass.

Saluting in tribute (Photo by Dennis Callahan)

The bugle’s melody came near the end of a Mass that drew on nearly eight decades of tradition, offered this year by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone. Concelebrants included fire department chaplain Father Edward Reese, S.J. as well as police chaplains Father Michael Quinn and Father Michael Healy.

“You my dear brothers and sisters are the force of order in our city. We thank you for the great risks you take with your lives every day, every day to ensure order and our protection,” Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone told the assembled men and women in uniform in his homily before walking throughout the cathedral, blessing the first responders’ stars and shields with holy water. (Read the complete homily here.)

Archbishop Cordileone blessing the stars and shields and first responders. (Photo by Dennis Callahan)

In his homily, the Archbishop said the more we try to live as God wants, the more we and our society come close to an ordered society, to heaven. In the same way, the role of first responders is to bring order to society, said the Archbishop. “One thing is certain, without you, life would be in constant chaos.”

The memorial Mass honors those who have died in the previous year, active and retired, but also is an opportunity for the Catholic Church to directly acknowledge and honor firefighters, fire department paramedics, police, sheriff’s deputies, park police, and all first responders active on the streets of the City and County of San Francisco.  The Mass was first offered in 1947, following the Herbert Hotel fire that killed four firefighters. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Mass was moved closer to Sept. 11, this year falling on the actual anniversary.

Before the Mass, a large group photo was taken on the cathedral plaza with the Archbishop, Mayor London Breed, Fire Chief Jeanine R. Nicholson, Sheriff Paul M. Miyamoto, Police Chief William Scott, other elected officials and the uniformed first responders in attendance. A short reflection by fire department chaplain Father Reese also preceded the start of Mass.

Reflecting later in the day, Father Quinn noted how appropriate it is to honor both those first responders who suffered and died rescuing others after the terrorist attacks and the men and women who serve San Francisco.

“Our first responders consistently respond to a variety of situations–for civil victims some the worst days of their lives. Yet they consistently respond with integrity and respect, the same awesome qualities that marked the first responders on 9-11-2001,” the San Francisco police chaplain said.

The memorial Mass included “The Last Alarm,” a reading of the names of those who have died the previous year by representatives of police, fire and sheriff’s departments. The reading of the names near the end of Mass was preceded by a short reflection by Assistant Police Chief David Lazar, a self-described “latch-key kid” and fourth-generation San Franciscan who was first inspired to be a police officer when his single Italian mother became a 911 dispatcher when he was 11.

Assistant Police Chief David Lazar: “As long as we have God, we have reason to hope. ” (Photo by Dennis Callahan)

With unflinching honesty, Lazar said the open drug markets, epidemic of drug overdoses, crime and disarray on the streets can create hopelessness in the police and firefighters and paramedics, and in the sheriff’s deputies who work in the jails.  ‘I’ve seen death in many forms. I have seen the lowest. I know I am not alone. We’re all in that same boat,” Lazar said. “It seems like a lot of despair. It seems like no end in sight.”

But in a rousing exhortation, Lazar said, “As people of faith we do not have the option to enter into the space of hopelessness. As long as we have God, we have reason to hope.  We know we are making a difference. As people of faith, we have hope, we have hope for a brighter future for our city.”

“Do not be discouraged. Know our help comes from God. May God bless San Francisco.”

–Valerie Schmalz is director of the Office of Human Life & Dignity. All photos by Dennis Callahan.

(L-R) Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, Police Chief William Scott, and Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson (Photo by Dennis Callahan)