Susan Bailey | CFP Correspondent
On September 11, outside of St. Rose of Lima Church in Northborough, firefighter Patrick McManus raised the American flag over a firetruck parked in front of the church building. It was the appropriate symbol of community between the town and parish as people from various faiths gathered for a Memorial Service of healing, peace and remembrance.
The 5 p.m. service opened with “Let There Be Peace on Earth” followed by a heartfelt reflection from Chief David Parenti of the Northborough Fire Department. On September 11, 2001 he was with candidates preparing to take the entrance exam – the first step to becoming a firefighter. He recalled the young recruits’ first reaction to the news of the plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center: “They thought it would be ‘exciting’ to respond to that call.” As the gravity of the situation sunk in, he noticed the candidates staring at TV screens and wondered if some were beginning to question their career path.
Some of the candidates were potential transferees from New York City to New England. Tears streamed down their faces as they watched events unfold. Their immediate reaction was to take the exam at the nearest opportunity and then to fly back to New York.
“They had to do something,” Chief Parenti said.
Among the chief’s recollections was the haunting reminder of lives lost symbolized by mysterious beeping noises beneath the rubble. Those sounds were coming from emergency devices set to go off when firefighters are in distress.
Chief Parenti noticed a changed reaction to first responders from the public after 9/11 in the form of hugs, offers of food and other means of solace and assistance.
“People couldn’t go to NYC so they wanted to help their local responders,” he said.
Chief Parenti ended his reflection with a plea: “Don’t wait for a tragedy to happen (a Baton Route, a Dallas, a 9/11) to express your appreciation to your first responders. Say a little prayer for us to get us home every day. It’s not easy being a first responder.”
After a prayer, the music group performed Bruce Springsteen’s “My City in Ruins.” Among the musicians was Michael Parr, a full-time firefighter from Shirley who played guitar and harmonica, and sang. Others included cantor DeAnne Duquette from St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury, violinist Olga Pineda from Leominster and bugle player Wayne MacGee from the Maritime Academy who played “Taps” at the end of the service. Rick Zinkus directed the music.
Members of the St. Rose of Lima youth group offered petitions composed by Pope Benedict XVI.
After a reading of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12a, Father James A. Houston, pastor of St. Rose of Lima, offered his thoughts. He recalled parishioners stranded in Seattle due to the grounding of all flights having to drive across the country to get back home. He remembered spending that day at Massachusetts Maritime Academy welcoming nervous incoming freshmen and the compelling need to set up an impromptu prayer service as a means of comfort after news of the attacks.
A running theme of his homily was choice – how we can choose to do something good in the midst of great evil.
“No one will forget the rush of firefighters running up 86 flights of stairs as people rushed out of the buildings,” he said. Illustrating the point further, he told the story of a firefighter risking his life to carry a disabled woman out of the crumbling tower.
Father Houston also shared the story of the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald dedicating his time and treasure since that fateful day to continue assisting the families of the more than 600 employees who perished.
He concluded by repeating a line from Lamentations: “The ways of God are never exhausted.”
The service concluded with a rousing rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Father Houston summed up the service in this way: “People like to remember. All the good citizens love to be involved with church; [Chief Parenti] drove from Concord, N.H. for that brief presentation. We try to build a community; we do our best to respect one another. Nothing beats praying together for a national cause.”
People who attended the service were visibly moved. “It provided for me a cathartic experience,” said Pat O’Hearn, a teacher. “My two children were working in the area that day.” Unaware of what had happened Mrs. O’Hearn learned through a phone call put through to her classroom that her two children were OK and how they had walked to New Jersey from downtown Manhattan.
“The service provided another release,” she said.