Religious leaders mark end of mourning period for slain Philadelphia Police officers

By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Three Philadelphia police officers slain in the line of duty in the past year were remembered Tuesday, Oct. 28 at a memorial service at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

“We assemble today to bring to a formal close our mourning for your beloved family members and assure you of our continued prayers,” Cardinal Justin Rigali said in opening remarks to the families of Sergeant Patrick McDonald of Christ the King Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, Officer Isabel Nazario of St. Veronica Parish in North Philadelphia and Officer Chuck Cassidy of St. Jerome Parish in Northeast Philadelphia.

McDonald, 30, an officer of eight years, was shot in the line of duty Sept. 23.

Nazario, 40, an 18-year veteran of the police department, died Sept. 5 after the patrol car in which she was riding was hit by a stolen car.

Cassidy, 54, a 25-year veteran, was shot Oct. 31, 2007.This event marked the one-year anniversary of his death.

Cardinal Rigali hosted the 11 a.m. interfaith and ecumenical service, which was co-sponsored by the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

The service drew several hundred police officers, clergy, civic officials and other guests.

“There is a need for a lot of healing – families, this community and other broken souls and lives that have been affected by too much violence here in our city,” Mayor Nutter said.

“We will never, ever give up in our efforts to make sure that our officers and our citizens are safer,” he added.

“I am deeply appreciative of this service,” the mayor continued. “It helps to…not completely, but it helps to…give some sense of closure for the many open wounds that so many of us have.

“There will never be a moment … when we will not respond to those who have fallen and their families. You have our love, our faith and our support which will endure forever.”

Representatives of the various faith traditions of the Philadelphia area contributed prayers of healing and hope.

A commitment to peace was delivered by three co-conveners of the Religious Leaders Council: Cardinal Rigali, Rabbi David Straus, immediate past president of the VAAD: Board of Rabbis, and Imam Anwar Muhaimin of the International Muslim Brotherhood Inc.

Imam Muhaimin said the service was a necessity. “We’re living in tough times in the city,” he said. “Anything that we can do to sort of set the tone from the perspective of a religious leader, this is the time to do it.”

Readings from Sacred Scripture were given by Rev. Bonnie Camarda, director of partnerships for the Salvation Army who represented the Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity and Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. and pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia.

The Gospel was delivered by Deacon Joseph M. Cella of Our Lady of Consolation Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, a sergeant of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit.

Representatives from the archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs were also present: Msgr. Michael J. Carroll, the director and the assistant directors, Sisters, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Josephine Kase and Judith Kreipe.

In addition, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey led members of the department in the Policeman’s Prayer.

“Anything they do to keep the memory of all of these officers alive is what you want – it’s wonderful what they’re doing – but I don’t ever see it being the end of a mourning period,” Cassidy’s wife, Judy, said prior to the service.

She found it difficult to believe that nearly a year had passed since her husband’s death.

“To me he’s still at work – we’re just waiting for him to come home,” she added.

After the ceremony, Officer Nazario’s mother and sister said the service was helpful and hoped all would continue to pray for peace in the city’s neighborhoods.

“The violence must stop,” said Maritza Mohamad, Nazario’s sister.

Nazario’s mother, Patricia Santiago, said she cries practically every night. “I miss my daughter so badly.”

The families of each of the slain officers were presented a city flag. Assisting with the flag presentation were students from Cardinal Dougherty High School, where Cassidy graduated in 1970, and Archbishop Ryan High School, where McDonald graduated in 1996.

Cardinal Rigali had asked all pastors of the Archdiocese to honor Mayor Nutter’s request to ring church bells at noon to begin a moment of silent prayer for all victims and to reflect on how everyone can help end the violence in every community.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Rabbi Straus trumpeted the shofar (a ram’s horn) on the Cathedral steps. It signaled the start of a one-minute citywide silent pause for healing and hope.

“The shofar is used in Jewish tradition as a call to action, a call to wake us up out of our slumber, a call to turn,” Rabbi Straus later said.

“It’s my hope in blowing the shofar and ending these 30 days of mourning that it will be a call for action for all the citizens of our city and our entire community to work for peace.”

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or