This morning the parish priest where I am staying in Cambridge pointed out a piece in the Boston Globe (Friday 26 April).
At the finish line of the Boston Marathon, clergy were not allowed to reach the victims of the bombing.
On the one hand, in such a case, you can understand that first responders would want to keep the chaos down by limiting the number of people in the area.
On the other hand, there was a time when first responders knew who priests were, what we did, and why. Priests were allowed in any where.
Many are the times when, while driving, I have stopped near to the emergency vehicles and asked if there was need for a priest. Most of the time the young guys stare blankly for a few moments. Shortly, the light bulb will click on over the head of one of them and either tell me that things were okay or, possibly, yes, there was need.
I have heard stories of chaplains for emergency or law enforcement entities being told that they shouldn’t mention God.
In regard to the Boston bombings I have written about the prayer of Catholics through the centuries that God preserve us from “unprovided” sudden death, that is, death without the chance to repent or to receive the last sacraments.
Preventing priests from reaching the victims is not good. Even if the victims are not Catholic or Christian, it is not good.
In any event, I bring this to the attention of the readership.
You should be able to click the image below for a larger, more readable version.
The text at WJS:
Faith at the Finish Line in Boston
Barred from the chaotic scene of the bombing, priests nonetheless found ways to provide solace.
By JENNIFER GRAHAM
The heart-wrenching photographs taken in the moments after the Boston Marathon bombings show the blue-and-yellow jackets of volunteers, police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, even a three-foot-high blue M&M. Conspicuously absent are any clerical collars or images of pastoral care.
This was not for lack of proximity. Close to the bombing site are Trinity Episcopal Church, Old South Church and St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine, all on Boylston Street. When the priests at St. Clement’s, three blocks away, heard the explosions, they gathered sacramental oils and hurried to the scene in hopes of anointing the injured and, if necessary, administering last rites, the final of seven Catholic sacraments. But the priests, who belong to the order Oblates of the Virgin Mary, weren’t allowed at the scene.
The Rev. John Wykes, director of the St. Francis Chapel at Boston’s soaring Prudential Center, and the Rev. Tom Carzon, rector of Our Lady of Grace Seminary, were among the priests who were turned away right after the bombings. It was jarring for Father Wykes, who, as a hospital chaplain in Illinois a decade ago, was never denied access to crime or accident scenes.
“I was allowed to go anywhere. In Boston, I don’t have that access,” he says.
But Father Wykes says he has noticed a shift in the societal role of clergy over the past few decades: “In the Bing Crosby era—in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s—a priest with a collar could get in anywhere. That’s changed. Priests are no longer considered to be emergency responders.”
The Rev. Mychal Judge is a memorable exception. The New York City priest died on 9/11, when the South Tower collapsed and its debris flew into the North Tower lobby, where Father Judge was praying after giving last rites to victims lying outside. The image of the priest’s body being carried from the rubble was one of the most vivid images to emerge from 9/11.
But Father Judge had been the city’s fire chaplain for nine years, knew the mayor, and was beloved by the firefighting force.
For police officers securing a crime scene, and trying to prevent further injuries and loss of life, the decision to admit clergy to a bombing site is fraught with risk. Anyone can buy a clerical collar for just $10, and a modestly talented seventh-grader with a computer and printer can produce official-looking credentials.
Father Carzon, the seminary rector, said he was “disappointed” when he wasn’t allowed at the scene of the bombing, but he understood the reasoning and left without protest. “Once it was clear we couldn’t get inside, we came back here to St. Clement’s, set up a table with water and oranges and bananas to serve people, and helped people however we could.”
By that point, spectators and runners who had been unable to finish the marathon were wandering around, “frightened, disoriented, confused and cold,” he said. Father Carzon was able to minister to a runner who wasn’t injured but had assisted a bystander with catastrophic injuries. Two hours later, the runner, a Protestant, was still walking around the area in shock and disbelief.
“He came over, and said, ‘You’re a priest, I need to talk to someone, I need to talk,’ and he was able to pour out some of the story of what had happened,” Father Carzon said. “Then there was an off-duty firefighter who was there as a spectator, and he, too, got pushed out of the perimeter, and he ended up here to pray. There was a feeling of helplessness we had when we couldn’t get close. But doing the little that we could—putting out a table with water and fruit, being there—I realize how much that ‘little’ was able to do.”
In light of the devastation in Boston, the denial of access to clergy is a trifling thing, and it might even have been an individual’s error. (The Boston Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on its policy regarding clergy at the scenes of emergencies.)
But it is a poignant irony that Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died on Boylston Street, was a Catholic who had received his first Communion just last year. As Martin lay dying, priests were only yards away, beyond the police tape, unable to reach him to administer last rites—a sacrament that, to Catholics, bears enormous significance.
As the Rev. Richard Cannon, a priest in Hopkinton, Mass., where the marathon begins, said in a homily on the Sunday after the bombings, “When the world can seem very dark and confusing, the presence of a priest is a presence of hope.”
Ms. Graham, a former religion reporter, is a writer and editor in Boston.
A version of this article appeared April 26, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Faith at the Finish Line in Boston.