Friday, September 12, 2008

Another Blue Mass Too Many

For the third time in the last ten months, another of the River City's finest -- and far beyond this town, another of our own -- was farewelled earlier today at the Cathedral-Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul before a packed house of church and civil dignitaries, as hundreds of her colleagues from around the country filled the pews, spilled out the doors, and stood guard in the street outside.

Admired among the force as a "pioneer" and someone "who'd always make your day when she walked in the door," Ofc. Isabel Nazario, 40, was killed in the line of duty last Friday when a stolen SUV she was chasing slammed into the side of her cruiser.

As Cardinal Justin Rigali closed his homily with a prayer in Spanish that Nazario "rest in the peace and love of God," a simple crucifix taken from the home she shared with her mother and 15 year-old daughter rested atop the pall, and the fallen cop's devotion to her faith and parish ran as a consistent thread through the day's sea of tributes from police, political and ecclesial brass alike.

While use of the cathedral for the funerals of fallen officers is a custom instituted only last year, before the final commendation an older tradition of the Philly force was continued as the remaining 130 members of Nazario's unit, the high-stakes Narcotics Strike Force, marched forward to each place a rose before the statue of the Sacred Heart -- patron of the local league for Catholics in law enforcement and public safety -- in the sanctuary. Tomorrow, escorted by a fleet from the force, Nazario's body will be flown to her native Puerto Rico for burial.

It's no secret that this church has provided a disproportionate number of its own to the ranks of those who serve and protect us all, some of whom have been called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Sure, their contribution might begin to get its due in the many places where an annual "Blue Mass" is held... but day in and day out, their witness on the beat is the kind we can never celebrate enough, nor ever be sufficiently grateful for.

Especially on a day like this -- and, fresh off another 9/11 anniversary, even moreso -- it's just something we should always keep in mind.

PHOTO: Lawrence Kesterson/Philadelphia Inquirer; AP/Matt Rourke