ORLANDO | It has been a record year of disturbing, unsettling events from the pandemic and wildfires to the death of George Floyd and others. In its 19th year, the annual Blue Mass for first responders took place at St. James Cathedral, Sept. 29. The Mass focused on unification and appreciation for those working hard to keep communities safe while putting their lives on the line.
The Blue Mass “is a reminder of the power of prayer. When we can come together as a community and law enforcement come together in a setting like this, it’s super important for us right now,” said Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón. He said, “Faith is something we can never forget as we perform our duties out there and we request the community’s prayers so that we can do our job in a just way, an honorable way.” He was grateful for the prayers for their safety.
When asked how his Catholic faith helps him face each day, especially in such an extraordinary year, he raised three fingers saying, “God. Family. Work. That’s the way, in my household, we tend to live life. That’s what’s kept us together.” He added, “Obviously, I rely on my wife (Giorgina) to provide me with the support and advice that I need to go to work every day and do what I’m supposed to. But it’s the power of prayer that has kept me sane. I highly recommend it.”
Margaret Gauntlett, wife of St. Cloud Police Chief Peter Gauntlett and mother of Orlando police officer Ben Gauntlett understands. “It’s a terrifying time for a police officer to go out. I jokingly say that I spend a lot of time on my knees praying, but I do,” noting she would be lost without her faith. “When I get really scared and I know my son is in the middle of a horrible situation downtown, I just say, ‘I’m giving it to you, God’ and I know he’s going to keep him safe.” She finds comfort in her faith community who has been “loving and supportive from start to finish.” She said, “It’s good to know that the Church is wrapping its arms around you.”
Instrumental in the organization of the annual Mass, Chief Gauntlett expressed his gratitude for Bishop John Noonan’s support and that of the many parishes sustaining them in prayer. He noted he and his wife’s devotion “to each other and to the Church,” are his greatest source of strength.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” said Bishop Noonan quoting Thomas Paine during the American Revolution in 1776. Bishop Noonan noted, just as Paine “went on to encourage the colonies to stay together and to fight on and eventually to achieve their goal of freedom, justice, and peace,” he too wanted to encourage first responders and assure them with a blessing and reminder, “You are the image of our merciful God…”
While civil servants of many professions were present and many more joined via live stream, it was the first time that a military chaplain and his father celebrated the Mass together as first responders. Father Adam Marchese – ordained in June 2020 – and his father, Dominic Marchese, a retired fire lieutenant with the Orange County Fire Department and retired fire chief with the Conway Fire Department share their commitment to the care of others. Father Miguel Gonzalez, rector of St. James Cathedral jokingly said Father Marchese, unlike his dad, “has been called to put out a different kind of fire.”
While growing up, Father Marchese said watching his father helped him understand what it was “to be a man for others.” His example enables Father Marchese to go forth as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. He will go on active duty after three years of service to the Diocese of Orlando.
As participants joined in a poem written by chancellor Carol Brinati, a reflection on Psalm 107, her fitting words mirrored the thoughts of many: “O Lord we are a struggling people gathered before You, lain barren by our divide we thirst for Your healing, we long for Your hope.”