Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mass pays tribute to construction workers who 'did not die in vain'

By Michael Daly -- Daily News

Just before 2 p.m. Monday, the hands that built New York began filling St. Patrick's Cathedral for a Mass in memory of the 26 construction workers who died in this city in the past 12 months.

At the head of the procession were the union banners for the ironworkers and the cement workers and the electricians and the carpenters and the steam fitters and all the other building trades that comprise what the presiding priest likes to call "the blue-collar symphony."

The banner for Local 14-14B of the International Union of Operating Engineers was borne with the help of 10-year-old Robert Bleidner, proud in a white hardhat.

"His father was operating the crane," the boy's uncle explained.

He meant the crane that suddenly collapsed on March 15, killing Wayne Bleidner and five other construction workers.

A brown hardhat belonging to one of the others who died that day sat on a row of empty chairs that stood in symbolic tribute before the altar.

This hat looked like it had been worn to hundreds of jobs and seemed all the more sacred for having been cracked by the force of the accident. The name stenciled on the back seemed a silent prayer.

"Tony Mazza."

Thousands more hardhats were worn by the construction workers who followed the banners in from the rain. Msgr. Robert Richie, the rector and the son of a union electrician, warmly welcomed them to the cathedral the Pope had visited nine days before.

"We had one very important visitor just about a week ago," Richie said. "Now we have 3,000 important visitors."

The chief celebrant of the Mass was Father Brian Jordan, who had forged a bond with the construction workers while serving as chaplain at Ground Zero. He called out something not often heard in the cathedral after the opening prayer.

"Please remove your hardhats."

The words repeated during the responsorial psalm at this Mass had a particular poignancy.

"Lord, give success to the work of our hands."

In the homily, Jordan called everyone's attention to the hardhats set on the empty chairs.

"They did not die in vain," Jordan said. "They upheld the dignity of human labor. As many raindrops came out today, they couldn't match the tears we have cried."

An FDNY memorial bell was rung once after each of the 26 names was read. Then came a moment of silence and the consecration and the ritual line, "Do this in memory of me."

The words seemed to hang in the air, for so little has been done in memory of all the construction workers who perished over the years building the skyline and the subways and the bridges and the water tunnels and everything else.

The forgotten include marble worker Andrew Brown, who once wowed a crowd by climbing up to make a repair within two feet of the cross atop one of the cathedral's spires only to die in a fall in April 1905 while installing a turret in the northeast transept.

Over a century later in the cathedral that Brown gave his life helping to build, thousands of construction workers raised their hardhats overhead in a sign of respect for their comrades who had been killed or injured.

A measure of how little respect the workers have felt from the rest of the city came when Jordan uttered what proved to be the most rousing words of the memorial.

"No more negativity, no more stereotypes. We stick together as sisters and brothers!"

The assembled workers applauded and cheered not just each other, but all who had come before them and all who will come after.

"Hardhats on!" Jordan then said.

Their heads nobly covered again, they trooped back into the rain with their proud banners.

Young Robert Bleidner was with the banner for Local 14-14B, both his hands on the pole, his eyes steady under the brim of a hardhat that we should not have needed a tragedy to honor.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! I am so happy for you!Keep up the fantastic job!
    Local Electrician


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