Eighteen years ago today, America was shaken to its core by terrorist attacks in which hijacked airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a southwestern Pennsylvania field. For many in Lamar County, the anniversary is a time of solemn remembrance and honoring first responders.

Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church this morning hosted a Blue Mass, honoring all law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics.

“We remember the unsuspecting people who went to work that day … and the emergency workers and volunteers who bravely came forward to serve those in need and lost their lives,” said Father Denzel Vithanage in his homily.

Vithanage spoke about the need for unity in the face of unspeakable tragedy, and the strength the country showed in the wake of the terror attacks in 2001.

“It is important to remember because we are a great nation,” he said. “We come together from all over the world, and are united. In any united country, when such hatred and attack happens, we need to be united once again to boldly proclaim the fundamental principles of freedom, justice and unity.

“And, of course, all of that is possible when there is true security. Security is the most important, and today we honor in a very special way the law enforcement who protect and provide us with a society of freedom.”

The resiliency and unity after the terror attacks was something that struck Lamar County Sheriff Scott Cass as well.

“There’s a lot of emotions; the sadness at the tragedy, and then the anger comes,” Cass said. “But one thing that I’ll always remember is the resolve, the resiliency. We came together on that day, and I’m thankful we have a God we can turn to, and His grace and peace can help us through these times.”

There are limits to our understanding, Vithanage said, and they must be understood when grappling with tragedy.

“There are many things we can never fully understand, and this includes the nature of evil in the world,” Vithanage said.

At the mass were several local law enforcement officers and paramedics. The Mass, and other showings of support, are greatly appreciated, Cass said.

“They open their arms and show their gratitude and how much they care for us, and it means a lot,” Cass said. “We’re blessed, we really are.”

Stephen “Red” Holmes, a reserve deputy with the sheriff’s office who was an officer with Paris Police Department in 2001 when the terror attacks occurred, said 9/11 holds an added significance for first responders.

“You always have that instinct or knowledge that something might happen to you when going into a shooting or major accident or something, but nothing like this,” Holmes said. “I think it made all first responders more aware of what can happen to you out there. Something like this, it can happen anywhere in this country, and we all need to be willing to make that sacrifice.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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