A legacy of heroism and self-sacrifice

BRIDGEPORT— In a solemn and moving service at St. Augustine Cathedral on Sunday September 11, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano remembered all those who have died as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and said they have left us a legacy of heroism and self-sacrifice in service of others.

The Diocesan Blue Mass commemorating the twenty-first Anniversary of 9-11 was a moment to pray for the repose of the souls of all who were lost and also to pray for the men and women first responders who continue to put their lives on the line to safeguard others in our community, he said.

Speaking directly to the first responders who turned out for the annual Mass, he thanked them for attending and said, “You who are here today represent the ranks of heroes with whom you serve. We pray for you now and every day.”

Uniformed Police, Fire and EMT’s from Bridgeport, Fairfield, Norwalk and other towns formed the Color Guard, while members of the Knights of Columbus served as Honor Guard for the 10 am Mass.

The bishop was joined around the altar by priests who serve as chaplains for police, fire and rescue units throughout Fairfield County. “They serve those who serve,” bishop said as he thanked the chaplains for ministering to first responders.

The bishop began his homily by noting that when he served as pastor of St. Dominick Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 2001, the last funeral Mass he celebrated for a parishioner lost in the attack was for a young woman whose body was not recovered in the disaster.

He recalled that a few weeks later, he realized how psychologically and physically exhausted he was from the trauma, as he began to grasp the enormity of the tragedy.

While the morning was a moment of great evil, the bishop said it was also “a morning of heroes when hundreds ran into the midst of unfolding disaster to save those they didn’t even know. They showed the world what it what it meant to be a hero of service.”

Referring to the emergency workers as martyrs, the bishop said that in order to save lives, they went to the aid of others and “their own personal safety didn’t enter– they rushed in to help.”

Bishop Caggiano noted that the suffering from 9-11 continues as the country recently reached the milestone of more people dying from the aftermath than in the original attacks. The heroic rescue and recovery work exposed workers to toxins that are continuing to take their lives 21 years later.

He said the world has not changed for the better since 9/11, and that it is more important than ever for people of faith to work for a world of fraternity, justice and peace.

“We are all challenged to build a world of justice and peace one day at a time by breaking out of complacency without regard to our own safety and comfort,” he said. “If we work to change the world by our witness and action to root out evil, you and I become servants of Christ.”

Photos by Amy Mortensen

Reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son found in the Gospel of Luke, the bishop said we all find ourselves in the place of the older brother who resents the return of his younger brother who left home and squandered the gifts he had been given by their father.

“The older son is a good man but he is complacent and self-righteous, which in the end leads to a painful spiritual mediocrity,” he said “He couldn’t imagine the Lord asking him to do one further thing–to step out of his comfort zone.”

Bishop Caggiano said the gospel challenges good men and women to avoid spiritual complacency that might prevent them from more fully embracing and witnessing the message of Jesus.

“You and I have to ask what hinders us from fulfilling our heroic responsibility that Jesus asks of us. We must ask the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to root out the tendency that prevents heroic witness.”

The bishop concluded his homily by noting that in the gospel we don’t know if the elder son walked back into the house to join the feast in honor of his wayward brother’s return. He said the gospel leaves us at the same place and with the same choice faced by the older brother.

“When we leave the church on this most solemn day, ask what will you and I do with the challenge Christ gives us,” he said.

Before the recessional, a single bugle sounded Taps followed by the playing of “America the Beautiful” as the first responders solemnly marched down the center aisle and out the front doors of the Cathedral, which looks over downtown Bridgeport.

After Mass, Bishop Caggiano thanked Fr. William H. Atwood, Organist and Diocesan Director of Music Ministry, who leads the choir. He also took time to greet those who attended and joined the first responders and member of the Knights of Columbus for a photograph on the steps of the Cathedral.