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Religion column: St. Stephen to host 'Blue Mass' in September

In honor of area police, firefighters and emergency responders, St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico will host its annual Blue Mass at 7 p.m. Sept. 9.

The Mass, first held in 2002, is open to all first responders and their families. The night will feature representatives from each branch of civil service and a reception. Military members also are welcome.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Blue Mass ceremonies popped up throughout the country after being annually hosted in Washington, D.C., since 1934. The use of the word Blue refers to the color uniforms traditionally worn by public safety persons.

About 300 to 400 people attend the event at 5049 Bell Shoals Road each year, said Gretchen Robens, communications coordinator for the church.

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's organization, hosts the Mass.

"We don't have many opportunities to thank these men and women for their sacrifices," Robens said. "They help keep our neighborhoods safe and help people in need."

Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy and St. Stephen member Daniel Connelly will attend the event.

"The experience is important," Connelly said. "We usually have a pretty good turnout, but I would like to see even more people involved in and attending the event. It is really moving seeing all the different outfits present their helmets or caps."

Robens said the Mass recognizes the wives, children, moms and dads of the honorees, as well.

"Families also make many sacrifices," Robens said. "They are a big part of it."

While the majority of attendees come from eastern Hillsborough County, Robens said people from throughout the county and extended Tampa Bay area are welcome.

For more information, visit ststephencatholic.org or call (813) 689-4900.

Contact Sarah Whitman at sarahrothwhitman@tampabay.com.

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