At a time where law enforcement is facing increased scrutiny around the nation, the 21st annual Blue Mass at St. Patrick Parish in Washington on May 5 provided Catholics an opportunity to thank first responders from around the metropolitan area, and to honor those who died in the line of duty. For Metropolitan Police chaplain and St. Patrick’s pastor Msgr. Salvatore Criscuolo, the Mass was about recognizing the unsung heroes of society. “We never hear about the officer day after day who has rescued somebody, has put their life on the line, gave somebody directions, picked up a lost child, got somebody home. Where would we be without these men and women?” he said in an interview after the Mass.

In the heat of the afternoon, a large American flag flew suspended by two fire truck ladders over police, firefighters and law enforcement officers of all kinds, from Washington, Maryland and Virginia. A parade of uniformed men and women carried flags past police on horseback, and a crowd held up their phones to digitally catch the parade as it passed by. The bells of the church tolled along with the music from the Montgomery County Pipes and Drums. Finally, priests in white vestments, led by a raised crucifix, filed into the packed church.

The Gospel message, from John 14, told of Jesus’s gift of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”  Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the main celebrant and homilist at the Blue Mass, noted that in a world often without peace, “those who are willing to stand between us and all the violence… should call forth from us enormous gratitude.” The only road to peace, said Cardinal Wuerl, comes through Christ and must begin in every human heart. “The very fact that the message of love of God and love of neighbor can be proclaimed here in this Church and across this country is because you are prepared to see that we are free,” he said.

Before the final blessing, the congregation stood and Taps was played to honor the 10 law enforcement officers from the Washington metropolitan area who died in the line of duty during 2014. The congregation sang America the Beautiful as the priests processed out of Mass, headed by law enforcement carrying the colors. Cardinal Wuerl and the several other police chaplains present then greeted the first responders on the steps of St. Patrick.

In his role as a chaplain, Msgr. Criscuolo visits police officers who are injured on the job, addresses them at the police academy, and often performs their weddings, the Baptisms of their children and other important events in their lives. “I try to be there for them spiritually, especially in times of difficulty, especially with everything now that’s been going on around in the country,” he said.

Msgr. Criscuolo warned against lumping all police officers into one grouping after a tragic mistake or malignant act is committed by one member of their rank. “If any of them mess up, make a mistake, then we all want to hear and see it over and over again,” he said. “And in certain cases, we need to. When they have done something that is wrong, they need to be called out for it.” On the whole, however, they should be prayed for and commended for their daily sacrifice, the chaplain said. “As the cardinal said, we may not even have been able to come to church today if not for the freedoms they continue to give every day,” said Msgr. Criscuolo.