Some prayed for strength to help the sick, the homeless or the desperate. Others asked for guidance to deal with criminals. As the sound of bagpipes echoed in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony blessed hundreds of public safety workers gathered Sunday for an annual Mass honoring those who work for the community.
"Day after day and night after night, you place yourself in harm's way in order to serve us and protect us," Mahony said. He prayed for God to "send down your blessing on all these badges and the people who wear them."
As Mahony walked between the pews and blessed every officer's badge with a splash of water, a dozen protesters with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests gathered quietly outside the Roman Catholic cathedral, calling for the church to cancel the ceremony.
"We want to help victims who have been afraid to come forward because church officials seem to be well-connected with police, law enforcement and attorneys," said Mary Grant, southwestern director of the organization. Grant said such ceremonies blurred the lines between the church and government.
Church spokesman Tod Tamberg said church officials believed that holding the Mass was not at odds with helping abuse victims feel comfortable reporting crimes. Tamberg said the point of the Mass was to nourish "the faith of the people who risk their lives to protect the community. A good many of these people choose their profession out of their desire to help others, which springs from a religious conviction."
LAPD Officer Arturo Valencia, 29, said it is challenging to deal with domestic violence, or to keep his cool when dealing with angry people stopped for traffic violations. His faith, as well as the Mass and blessing of the badges, reinvigorates him.
"It helps me make better decisions at work," he said, "and keep my compassion."
Sitting at the front of the church, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton and Los Angeles Fire Chief William Bamattre were the first to have their badges blessed. As the men and women stood in their pews, some lifted their badges from their belts or wallets, while others wore them on uniforms.
Firefighter and paramedic Mark Gaines, 44, brought his four children and wife to the Mass, as he does every year. Working with the homeless, poor and injured in his career, he said, has been a "spiritual journey."
"It tests our strength," he said. "It's especially difficult because it is the worst time of [a victim's] life. There are times when you haven't slept or eaten, and there are people in their time of need. That's when you draw upon your faith."