15th annual Blue Mass honors first responders, remembers 9/11 victims

Published 4:14 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2016

We remember, we celebrate, we believe.

That was the theme Monday morning at St. Joseph Catholic Church for the 15th annual Blue Mass, a service to remember the emergency responders and civilians who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A host of area law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel were honored during the ceremony, which was presided over by Bishop John Stowe of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington.

The service opened with a welcoming message from Jim Barlow, a local Knights of Columbus member, who reiterated the theme of the annual service: we remember, we celebrate, we believe.

“We remember the armed service personnel that have given their life for all of us,” Barlow said. “We remember over 2,900 people whose lives were lost on Sept. 11, 2001, and we remember Father Mychal Judge — whose blue candle on the table is in honor of — who was a Franciscan Friar and chaplain to the New York City Fire Department.

“He was is the north tower, administering right, the last rights, when the south tower collapsed and debris took his life. Out of respect, he is listed as the first casualty of the Sept. 11 tragedy. We celebrate all of you, the first responders, who serve us 24 hours a day, seven days a week and all our county and city officials. We thank you, and God bless you all. We believe just as God is watching over us, he is watching over all of you.”

Barlow also offered a special message to Winchester Blue Mass founder Carl Kohlbecker, who passed away in Nov. 2012.

“Most people are familiar with Carl,” Barlow said. “The city thought enough of him years ago to name him man of the year. It was 14 years ago when I joined the Knights of Columbus. I helped him organize the first Blue Mass, that obviously was 15 years ago.”

Barlow said he recalls calling Kohlbecker to mention he ran into some problems in the organization stage. Kohlbecker’s response was something that will always stick with him.

“His response was there are no problems, only opportunities,” Barlow said. “That’s all you need to know about Carl, he was my mentor, my friend and quite possibly my heavenly father. He has seven daughters and we’re lucky enough to have several of them here with us today.”

Following Barlow’s opening remarks, a parade of helmets in which a protection helmet from the Winchester Police Department, Winchester Fire-EMS, Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Clark County Fire Department were placed on a table at the front of the sanctuary.

Jim Jones read from Colossians 3:12-15, and deacon Tony Fritz read from Luke 6:27-38.

Bishop Stowe, who was escorted by the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Honor Guard, then presented the homily.

“For my grandparents, it was Pearl Harbor,” Stowe said. “For my parents, it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but for anybody old enough to remember Sept. 11, 2001, it was a date that is firmly etched in our memories and will never be erased. Everything changed that day.”

Stowe said the attack, having occurred on our own soil, was beyond our imagination.

“It’s something other parts of the world live with day-in, day-out,” Stowe said. “It was so horrid to us. The attack was against a nation and what it stood for, it was against targets, the World Trade Center representing business, the Pentagon representing the symbol of the U.S. Military.

“Many of us remember that horrible morning of trying to figure out what was going on. Initially, there were feelings of confusion, anger, fear, retribution. All of those things were happening. Then little by little things were released, messages, emails and you heard messages of despair and hopelessness. It struck us with a desire to reach out to the victims’ loved ones and say what they didn’t have a chance to say.”

Stowe said he recalls for moments immediately following the 9/11 tragedy, we hugged each other a little more tightly, didn’t let our children leave the house without saying goodbye and once again learned the importance of saying “I love you,” “thank you” or “I’m sorry.”

“We recognized the way that Christians are supposed to live,” Stowe said. “We learned to value that people are important in our lives and to express love that we so infrequently do not express.”

Stowe said for a brief moment, our nation put aside political views and came together as one, united.

“We valued that our nation would not be destroyed,” Stowe said. “For a brief time, the rest of the word was sympathetic for us and people, who in the past were criticizing us, were signing our praises. For a brief moment, we truly came together as a people. We were at our best.”

Stowe said in events such as 9/11, people typically look at vengeance and retaliation, but 15 years later, we often hear different words.

“We hear words now that are consistent with our faith, words of compassion and heartfelt mercy and we talk about being the best versions or ourselves. We do this as individuals, as families and we do that as a nation,” he said.

Following Stowe’s homily, Clark County Fire Battalion Chief Ernest Barnes and retired Winchester Fire-EMS Fire Chief Eric Hunter presented the gifts for communition, while Bishop Stowe prayed a special blessing over the emergency responders in attendance.

A light lunch was served following the mass at the parish hall gym where hundreds of handwritten thank-you cards from St. Agatha Academy students were displayed.

Contact Steve Foley at steve.foley@winchestersun.com or follow him on Twitter @SteveFoley8.