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Blue Mass--Blessed by protection and service


La Plata, MD - The recent tragedies in America—the murders of police officers in cities like Dallas, Baton Rouge and San Diego—have shaken communities of all sizes. Charles County, a jurisdiction whose population continues to rise while the urbanization of some of its sections evolves, appears to be one of those locations on edge.

“We understand what happens nationally affects us all,” said Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry.

This summer many communities have made gestures to show support for law enforcement. On Friday, July 29 the Roman Catholic churches of Charles County offered blessings and prayers.

“We got a call from a police officer the day of the Dallas shootings asking if the churches were going to do anything,” said Sacred Heart Church of La Plata Pastor Rev. Lawrence C. Swink, who explained the churches decided holding a “Blue Mass” would be an appropriate way to express appreciation for local law enforcement’s service and protection. “We planned it for today. I didn’t know what to expect.”

During his homily, Father Swink explained that July 29 was the Feast of St. Martha, who was known for her service to others.

Deputies and patrol officers from the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, and Town of La Plata Police Department personnel were among the uniformed officers who sat in the front rows during the mass.

Deputy M.J. Van Horn recalled his decision nearly a decade ago to embark on a career seemed like a sound decision. “I grew up in a military family,” he said. Today he is part of a sheriff’s office detail that does community policing in the Newburg and Cobb Island areas. While the hours are odd and he and his wife are raising two children, Van Horn says the family is “willing to work” to make home life normal. When asked with all that has happened recently with police officers has him second-guessing his career decision, Van Horn quickly declared, “not at all.”

Towards the end of mass, Father Swink extended a blessing to the officers. Then the congregation at first applauded and then stood and applauded the gathering of officers in the church. “We got a little teary-eyed during the standing ovation,” Lt. J.R. Strine of the Charles County Sheriff’s Office admitted. The 27-year veteran declared, “I know the people support the police.”

During his homily, Father Swink stated that Charles County officers have been given the option of not wearing their uniforms to and from work as a way to avoid harassment from individuals who are not supportive of cops. The prelate asked the officers to wear their uniforms proudly as it gives a majority of citizens peace of mind and a feeling of protection.

“We really appreciate it, we're very grateful,” said Berry of the community’s display. The sheriff admitted his and other local police agencies face a big challenge every day. “Charles County is no longer a small town,” he told The BayNet. “When a community grows there’s an additional drain on law enforcement.”

For a few hours of one day local peace officers had a chance to bask in the sunlight that shone through a large stained-glassed window and savor the sounds of patriotic hymns in a serene venue.

“I think it was great for the guys to see this support,” said Swink.

The event was billed the First annual Blue Mass, an indication that a new tradition has been born. The church service included participation by the Knights of Columbus. Church volunteers provided a sumptuous buffet for the officers following the mass. 

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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