By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – The Catholic presence at the Philadelphia Police Department is apparent.
In recent months, this presence has been visible in an especially poignant way. All seven Philadelphia police officers to die in the line of duty since May 2006 were Catholic. So is Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who has spoken at each of the funeral Masses.
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Two of the fallen officers were from the 35th District: Officer Chuck Cassidy, 54, of St. Jerome Parish, who was shot Oct. 31, 2007, and Officer John Pawlowski, 25, of St. Anselm Parish, who was shot this past Feb. 13. According to Capt. John McCloskey of the 35th district, the officers there have certainly appreciated the outpouring of public prayers.
“It’s a tremendous asset to the police officers,” said McCloskey, who is a parishioner of St. Dominic Parish. “It’s just one more [item in the] arsenal that we have when we go out there and try to help people.”
Philadelphia Police Lt. Bill DiGiuseppe, a parishioner of Our Lady of Calvary Parish who also serves with the 35th district, said that he thanks God for each day. He also asks God for continued guidance in making major decisions.
For Deacon Joseph M. Cella, a permanent deacon at Our Lady of Consolation Parish and a sergeant in the police department’s major crimes unit, his work as a police officer and his faith are linked.
“Being a police officer calls us to live out our faith in that, for love of God and love of neighbor, we serve one another,” he said. “We try to bring the peace of the Lord to those areas we’re called to serve.
“The whole idea of experiencing the kingdom of God on earth is all about that sense of security – that I’m cared for, that I’m loved, that my needs will be tended to, that there is somebody I can turn to in times of trouble and that person will respond and tend to those needs. And that’s the police officer for most people.
“Our mere presence may thwart a crime – it’s not always confrontational,” he added.
But confrontation is a reality of the dangers inherent in police work, of which officers are reminded when a death occurs in the line of duty.
On Monday, March 16, Cardinal Justin Rigali hosted a memorial service at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul marking the end of the official 30-day mourning period for Pawlowski.
In introductory remarks at the memorial service, Cardinal Rigali pledged prayers for the Pawlowski family, and in his opening prayer, asked for “healing throughout our city, especially for an end to violence …. May this healing take hold of all our hearts and lead us to reconciliation with one another.”
The interfaith and ecumenical service was co-sponsored by the city of Philadelphia, the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.
A litany of reconciliation and healing was presented by representatives of various faith traditions, including Christians, Jews and Muslims. Deacon Cella proclaimed the Gospel reading.
“There are certain issues that transcend all denominations and political persuasions, and this is certainly one of those issues,” said Adam Kessler, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, after the service.
Calling the killings of the city’s police officers “incomprehensible,” Kessler said the memorial service is one way for the various faith groups to band together in an effort to halt the escalating violence.
Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia Stefan Soroka said the service provided an opportunity to herald and honor police officers who sacrifice their lives for the safety of others and to pray for change in the perpetrators.
In remarks, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter underscored the importance of respecting the sacrifices and dangerous work of police officers. He called on the public to pray and to work hard to make certain neighborhoods are safe.
DiGiuseppe said the fallen police are never forgotten by their fellow officers.
“You say to yourself, this could have been [me]” he said. “It makes you more careful. Your faith gets you through it.”
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.