Aroostook County residents find solidarity, solace in Blue Mass

Posted Sept. 11, 2011, at 7 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — When she thinks of her childhood in terms of her experience with history, one moment in Rita Henderson’s life sticks out.

“I think I was 11 or 12 years old,” the Presque Isle resident said Saturday evening. “And I came home from school upset because we’d studied the attack on Pearl Harbor. I remember being very frightened that another country would attack us again.”

Henderson’s mother, who was 8 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, brushed off her daughter’s fears.

“She told me that America would never be that vulnerable again,” she said, before pausing. “I’m glad my mother died before 9/11.”

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Reflections on evil and the lessons learned in its aftermath were on the minds of many people who attended the Blue Mass on Saturday evening at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Caribou. The special mass honors first responders and was attended by approximately 70 law enforcement, fire, EMS and other emergency personnel from Maine and New Brunswick. Agencies represented included the Maine State Police, Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department, Maine Warden Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a number of fire departments.

It was standing room only at the church as Bishop Richard J. Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, thanked the public servants and bestowed blessings upon them. As members of the public safety agencies entered the church in uniform, they were greeted with a standing ovation. Bishop Claude Champagne of Edmundston, New Brunswick, concelebrated. Prayers and songs in English and French highlighted the mass, and Malone spoke about lessons gleaned from the terrorist attacks, including that the gift of free will offered by God can sometimes lead to unimaginable evil.

Malone urged the crowd to be vigilant and remain on guard against those who seek to harm us, and to “resist and reject” extreme ideologies that attack human life, no matter the religious basis behind them.

At the same time, “we also must be able to see the good in the midst of the horror,” he added on Saturday evening.

Rita Henderson, who is not a parishioner of the Caribou church, said that she wanted to attend the mass to “do something positive” amidst the lingering sorrow.

“Ever Sept. 11, it is hard to see those images again, the planes going into the towers, the faces of those hijackers,” she said. “I find myself feeling depressed about the future. When I heard about this mass, I just wanted to come and honor those who keep us safe, while also finding solace in the Bible.”

Erin Soucy, a Caribou resident, brought her two young sons to watch police, fire and other first responders march into the church. She said that a grandfather and great-grandfather were firefighters in Connecticut and Ohio, respectively, and she also has a cousin who is a police officer in Massachusetts.

“My boys are starting to hear the word ‘hero,’ more and more, but they kind of associate it with someone in a comic book or cartoon,” she said on Saturday evening. “I wanted them to see the officers and the firefighters so I could say, ‘That is a hero. That is someone who runs toward the danger and not away from it.’ I am glad that the mass was held here so I could do that.”

This was the first Blue Mass held at the Caribou church. The ceremony also attracted a number of city and town officials, state representatives and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

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