The man captured the thoughts of many as he exited the New Year’s Day Mass for police, firefighters and all workers who respond to society’s calls for help.
“Thank you for saying a sermon that should have been heard in the entire diocese,” the man, a visitor to the parish, said to the Rev. Ernie Davis at St. Therese Little Flower Church in Kansas City.
This year’s Mass drew a large crowd. Some of the overflow was due to recent publicity. The Kansas City Star chronicled how the annual service to honor those who died while on duty was revived five years ago.
And there was the obvious. The final months of 2014 rocked and polarized the nation with protests about police use of force and the shooting deaths of two New York officers, targeted solely because they wore the blue uniform.
Davis deftly delivered a unifying message. All lives matter, especially to the mothers who grieve when their child dies. It matters not whether the lost soul was an officer or a victim of crime or someone who died under circumstances that later raise questions about policing. Grief is the shared emotion of survivors.
Davis knows that sorrow. He once gave last rites to a shooting victim on a corner adjacent to church property. St. Therese parish has long worked with police, concerned about how blight and poverty can escalate crime.
About 30 of the 250 families of the parish live nearby. Others are drawn by St. Therese’s diversity and activism. The congregation’s warmth was on display for its many visitors Thursday.
The family of Joey D. Little, a police officer killed in duty in California, lingered after the service to view the unique nativity crèche near the altar. In addition to the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, the scene includes a figure of Martin Luther King Jr., portrayals of parishioners who maintained the church’s food pantry and an angel representing a parishioner’s deceased daughter.
Diane Little now lives in Gladstone. Her husband’s death is a stark reminder of the constant dangers for police. He was a detective with the Placentia Police Department in California when his squad car was hit by a driver running a red light. Detective Little had been driving a fellow officer, who had been shot two months before, to work.
Little suffered brain damage in the wreck. He never left hospital care but lived for seven years before dying in 1996. He was 40. His wife said her husband chose to live because their three children were still young then.
“It’s just nice when people remember officers like him,” she said.