SAN JUAN — The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville held a Blue Mass here Wednesday for first responders throughout the four counties of the Rio Grande Valley.

The Mass was held at 12:15 p.m. at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in San Juan with over 300 first responders in attendance.

The Blue Mass Committee helped organize the Mass. The committee, of which the diocese’s bishop and auxiliary bishop also serve, is made up of representatives from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, and multiple agencies throughout Hidalgo County.

The committee meets up to five times a year to prepare for the Blue Mass.

Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres has been a member of the Blue Mass Committee for two years. He, along with some fellow officers from his department, were in attendance at Wednesday’s Mass.

“It’s a great program because it brings different departments together,” Torres said, who has attended three Blue Masses. “The church highly supports law enforcement. It’s just special, especially when you see different colored uniforms in the same building and supporting each other. It’s a very special day for law enforcement.”

Ofelia de los Santos is the director for CDOB, as well as a member of the Blue Mass Committee. She helped organize the Mass for the first responders — the second to be held at the basilica.

“They happen every year in different parishes, but we started doing diocesan-wide Mass for the four counties last year. This is our second Mass diocesan-wide,” de los Santos said. “These two bishops, Daniel Flores, and our Auxiliary Bishop (Mario) Avilés, they really place a lot of emphasis on not only the Blue Mass, but also the Red Mass for the judiciary and the White Mass for everyone in the health profession.

“They’re becoming a regular thing for us. It’s so important.”

The Mass commenced with an honor guard representing the various agencies with respective banners.

Several representatives of various agencies participated in the Mass as Lectors and Gift Bearers.

“Nobody joins law enforcement or becomes a first responder as either paramedics or as firemen or women because they’re looking to make themselves sort of greater,” Flores said during the homily. “It’s about a service. It’s about a gift. It’s about knowing you’re going to put yourself on the line for that.

“Nobody does it for self-aggrandizement. We pray that this sense of service, this wanting to devote a life which really is for the cause of justice and defense of especially the vulnerable — that requires courage. It requires a sense of steadfastness.”

The Mass was originally scheduled for May, but the pandemic nearly caused the event to be canceled. It was the first responders who pushed for the Mass to go on, albeit postponed and with preventative measures in place, as planned.

“We just postponed it until June 24th, hoping that we’d be able to — with proper protocol — still host the Mass,” de la Rosa said. “I was surprised. These guys and women go out every day and expose themselves for our safety, but they wanted this. They wanted this Mass. They thought it would be very important.”

At the end of the Mass, Flores stood near a red, white and blue wreath, donated by Margarita’s Flower Shop in Edinburg, and blessed several wooden crosses to be handed out to first responders in attendance. The wreath was placed on the altar to honor first responders who have fallen in the line of duty, and will remain there for the rest of the week.

Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez, who also serves on the Blue Mass Committee, was pleased with the turnout and the support shared through the Mass.

“It was an honor to be part of that Mass as we honor our fallen,” Dominguez said, referencing the three Mission police officers who have died in the line of duty — most recently Corporal Jose Luis “Speedy” Espericueta, who was killed on June 20, 2019, after responding to reports of an armed man. “It was kind of a heart-wrenching situation for us, but I’m glad that we were all able to gather and be able to recognize our fallen.”

Just before the Mass ended, a moment of silence was held as taps was played by officer Daniel Garcia of the McAllen Police Department.