Saturday, May 13, 2006

No Greater Love

The Catholic funeral yet again provided the context for civic mourning yesterday, as Philadelphia Police Officer Gary Skerski was laid to rest.

Skerski, 46, a 16-year veteran of the force who would've marked his 18th wedding anniversary today, was killed Monday night by an assailant fleeing the scene of a bar robbery in Northeast Philly. Acclaimed for his commitment to community relations, he leaves behind a wife and two young children.

Cardinal Justin Rigali celebrated Skerski's Mass of Christian Burial at St Adalbert's -- the parish of the old Polish bastion of Port Richmond. The church's longtime pastor, Msgr Francis Feret, delivered the homily.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, US Sen. Arlen Specter and Philadelphia Mayor John Street led the official mourners, as uniformed police converged by the thousands from around the country to pay tribute to one of their own. The neighborhood was effectively shut down for most of the day due to the crowd in the streets, which was estimated in excess of 10,000. Following the liturgy, the cortege to Resurrection Cemetery in Bensalem closed I-95, the city's main motorway, for three hours.

The largest manhunt in the city's recent history continues as Skerski's killer remains at large.
In his homily, Feret quoted the children's book The Giving Tree, likening the tree to a police officer "who gives and continues to give."

He stilled the standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,000 inside the colorful church when he raised his voice to decry the way in which Skerski died.

"When does our respect for our dignity as human beings move us to say, 'Enough!'? Enough grief! Enough dead heroes! Enough widows! Enough fatherless children!' "

He also urged forgiveness.

"Today, more than ever, we are called to be merciful, to forgive even those who wound us severely," Feret said. "From the depths of our wounded souls, we must forgive."

Turning to the children, he said, "Robert and Nicole, be proud of your father. What he did, only a few are called to do: He gave his life that others may live."

Tom Gralish/
Philadelphia Inquirer