Shortly before the Diocese’s 21st annual Blue Mass began April 13, the inside of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, was quiet and still as the names of 51 law enforcement officials who lost their lives in the line of duty since 2019 were slowly called.
For the congregation, the reading of the names called to mind one of the main reasons that they had gathered: to remember and pray for all persons serving in law enforcement; those currently serving and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
PHOTO GALLERY: Blue Mass 2023
The Blue Mass, formally known as the Celebration of Law Enforcement, “is our annual opportunity in the Diocese of Trenton to recognize you, the women and men who protect and serve us,” said Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., to the hundreds of law enforcement professionals from scores of departments and associations throughout Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean Counties. The popular event had returned after a three-year hiatus due to COVID concerns.
The Mass, the Bishop continued, is an occasion “to thank you, to lift you up to God in prayer, regardless of your particular religious beliefs . . . to raise you up and ask Almighty God to watch over you, to care for you, to protect you, the way a father watches over and cares for and protects his children.”
In keeping with its traditional pageantry, the Blue Mass unfolded amid the stirring sights and sounds of bagpipes and drums; color guards carrying an array of flags, and columns of uniformed officers filing into the Co-Cathedral.
Among the 900 attendees were family members of law enforcement personnel; parishioners from around the Diocese and civic and political figures, including Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-4), who is a native and long-time resident of Diocese, and now worships in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting.
During the Mass, the Bishop spoke of how the Blue Mass “is a celebration of faith, a faith that is sometimes tested by the darker side of human life.” He admitted that when people encounter evil in the world, their response might be to turn away from God, to reject God and even to doubt God’s existence.
“We may think or ask ourselves, ‘how can God exist if he lets such terrible things happen,’” the Bishop said, citing some of the heinous situations that police face each day: “the incomprehensible and indiscriminate shootings in schools and public places almost daily, murder, assault, rape, drug abuse, gang violence, burglary, rampant disregard for other people, for life, for property.
“And yet, (in the midst of) the evil we see in the world . . . we may come to realize that God is our only hope; that God alone helps us make sense of the world.
The Bishop proclaimed, “Today . . . we thank God for giving you, the women and men of law enforcement, the vision inspired by your faith and trust in God every single day of your service, to ‘be there’ for us, the communities of which you are a part, the communities you ‘serve and protect’. We thank God. And we thank you!”
Having retired from the Trenton Police Department in 1994, Frank Scharibone of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown, attended with his wife, Heni. The couple was moved to see men and women officers praying together.
Taline Toutounchi-DeAngelis of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish said she thought about her brother-in-law, who is a police officer, during the Mass, and wanted to convey the importance of supporting law enforcement officers to her two young children, Noah and Ava.
Shane Evans of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department and member of St. Dominic Parish, Brick, called it a privilege to participate in the Mass as a reader during the Prayers of the Faithful. He expressed gratitude for the event that offers law enforcement officers the chance to gather in remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and their loved ones who suffered their loss.
As a member of a multi-generational family who belongs to St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, Ted Freeman, an undersheriff in the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, acknowledged that the Blue Mass is a time to celebrate his Catholic faith and his career in law enforcement.
Similar to Evans, Freeman said, “We can never forget those who reached the full measure in law enforcement.
“It’s shattering when there’s a loss of life,” he said, adding that along with the officer, his or her family, fellow officers and the community they served are also shattered.
At the end of the Mass, Father Stephen Sansevere paid tribute to Msgr. Philip A. Lowery, who died Nov. 28, 2019. At the time of his death, Msgr. Lowery was pastor of St. James Parish, Red Bank; served as the chaplain of the New Jersey State Police for 25 years, and was a longtime member of the Blue Mass planning committee.
Father Sansevere said the 2023 Blue Mass was personally meaningful since it was the first time he was among the concelebrating priests since his 2020 ordination and it was a time for him to recall the various people and experiences he encountered during the 25 years he served as a Jersey City police officer.
Now pastor of the three parishes of the Catholic Community of Hopewell Valley, Father Sansevere admitted that the skirl of the pipes and the beating of the drums that reverberated through the Co-Cathedral, “made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It gave me chills.”
Following the Mass, the celebration continued outside on the Co-Cathedral plaza where the Bishop greeted and took photos with the congregants and law enforcement officials, three of whom were mounted on police horses. The Bishop also blessed a long row of police motorcycles. Many of the officers and their families went on to enjoy a luncheon in the parish hall.