Blue Mass celebrated 


By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

As blue skies made way for billowing clouds on July 21, men and women, many wearing law enforcement uniforms, warmly greeted each other in the portico of St. Gerard Majella Church in North Baton Rouge. The crowd was there to attend a special Blue Mass, honoring first responders and their families but also to commemorate the first Blue Mass held at St. Gerard, three years earlier.  

 

Blue Mass 1 new.tif

Family members of officers Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald, Brad Garafola and Terry Melancon process into St. Gerard Majella Church in Baton Rouge for the Blue Mass on Sunday, July 21.  Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator  

 

On that Sunday, July 17, three law enforcement officers, Corporal Montrell Jackson and Officer Matthew Gerald with the Baton Rouge Police Department, and Deputy Brad Garafola, with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, were shot and killed in the line of duty. It happened less than two weeks after the police shooting of Alton Sterling, a Baton Rouge African-American. According to former BRPD chief Pat Englade, that event was the reason a special Mass was already scheduled that fateful morning at the Plank Road church.  

“It was directly after the Alton Sterling situation (July 5), (people) were going to have a protest so we wanted to get the community together and just have a listen and talk about this. This was a perfect chance to do it in North Baton Rouge,” recalled Englade. “And then as we were walking into the church, we heard about the shooting that morning, multiple officers were down. We didn’t really know what was going on at that point. I was supposed to speak and it was very tough getting through that, not knowing what had happened that morning.”  

Englade, an alumni of Redemptorist High School and organizer of the Blue Mass, spoke July 21, welcoming officers and first responders; families and friends of first responders; dignitaries and community leaders. He then recalled the events that unfolded the morning of that first Blue Mass in 2016 and the importance of continuing to gather in their honor and to honor “the law enforcement officers who help us everyday and to pray for their safety and well-being.”  

Englade also introduced six-year-old Levi Russell, an honorary police officer who raises money to buy bulletproof vests for police officers.  

The procession for the Mass included the families of fallen officers Jackson, Gerald, Garafola and Terry Melancon, who was killed in the line of duty in 2005.  

Father Tat Hoang CSsR welcomed everyone and referred to the Scripture readings of “welcoming, inviting one another, even to serve one another” in honoring the first responders. He said they would always be welcomed at St. Gerard.  

Father Hoang, who has only been pastor at St. Gerard for three weeks, drew laughs when he started his homily saying he was nervous. He noted that the care and service offered by Abraham and Sarah to three strangers in the first Scripture reading was similar to the care and service offered by first responders.  

“What a privilege and honor that we all are here in St. Gerard Church to care for one another; to share our pain and glory together; and, to honor and pray for one another that God will constantly bless us to create peace, unity and kindness,” said Father Hoang. “You are so kind. You’re kind for being here, to remember and to pray for the first responders, living and deceased.”  

Father Hoang noted that “the word of God invites us to be kind to one another, no matter who we are, no matter where we come from.”  

Blue Mass 2.tif

The congregation lifted their hands for a special blessing on first responders during the Blue Mass at St. Gerard Majella Church in Baton Rouge.  

 

He explained that his own family migrated to the U.S. 26 years ago as political refugees from Vietnam and thanked Americans for welcoming them and other immigrants – just as Abraham and Sarah welcomed their foreign guests.  

“Kindness matters,” said Father Hoang. “Kindness produces more kindness.”  

He then recounted the time he and another priest were late for a wedding and were stopped by two officers for speeding. Father Hoang said after they handed over the requested paperwork and explained where they were headed, the first officer asked his partner if he should issue a ticket, to which the partner replied, “Do you want to go to hell?” The officers sent the priests on their way with a warning to slow down and a penance of praying for the officers.  

“I’ll never forget those two officers and their kindness and sense of humor which helped me to appreciate their duty and their patience even more,” said Father Hoang. “How hard and dangerous it is to work in the situations that our first responders work in daily. Some left for work but never came back. Some left for work and never came back the same. They sacrifice their whole lives and their loved ones for the sake of the common good. So, thank you, again.”  

He then asked all first responders to stand up and be recognized. After Communion, former BRPD Chief Carl Dabadie, who was police chief when the shootings occurred, spoke about the lasting effects of that day in 2016 on families and officers who continue to struggle emotionally. According to Dabadie, 68 officers have been killed in the line of duty so far this year nationally and 106 suicides.  

“That really concerns me,” said Dabadie. “It concerns me about their health, the wellness of our law enforcement officers. Things must be very traumatic in their lives for them to do that. We have to watch out for our brothers and sisters. When we see something, we have to say something.” 

Dabadie stated most residents in the community “don’t see what we see everyday – what we relive everyday before we get home.” He stressed the importance of having administrative support for officers and first responders and thanked dignitaries and elected officials for attending the Mass.  

“Your presence means a lot,” he said. “It will mean more than you will ever know.” 

“I’m learning how (the Blue Mass) came about, and I’m very impressed because it seems to have answered something that the community believed is fulfilling a heartfelt need,” said Father Gil Enderle CSsR, of St. Gerard Church, who con-celebrated the Mass.  

Braley Garafola, the daughter of Deputy Brad Garafola, sang “On Eagle’s Wings” before Father Hoang asked all first responders to come to the altar for a special blessing.  

Afterward, all were invited to the parish hall for lunch; however, a heavy downpour of rain kept most of the crowd inside though they didn’t seem to mind. It just gave everyone a little more time to visit and show their love and support for one another no matter the storm.