Scouts from across the eight-county Catholic Diocese of Cleveland gathered on Sept. 13 in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist for the annual Diocesan Court of Honor Mass celebrated by Bishop Edward Malesic.
Concelebrants were Father John Pfeifer, scout chaplain and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Cleveland; Father Frank Basa, retired parochial vicar from St. Bernard Parish in Akron; Father Michael Petkosek, parochial vicar at St. Albert the Great Parish in North Royalton; and Father Jeremy Merzweiler, administrator of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Akron. Deacon John Green from Holy Family Parish in Stow assisted.
The entrance procession included dozens of scouts who were recognized for earning various honors in the past year.
Father Pfeifer, the homilist, connected the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the acts of heroism by first responders with what Jesus did for us as our savior. Bringing the analogy full circle, he also talked about how scouts promise to do their duty to God and country, to obey the scout law and to help other people at all times.
He accidentally discovered a television documentary involving two French brothers who were in New York City to film a rookie firefighter. Little did they know their film would take an unexpected turn and become a firsthand look at the tragic events of 9/11 as they saw the first plan hit the north tower of the World Trade Center while accompanying firefighters to investigate a report of a gas leak.
The filmmakers joined the firefighters as they rushed to the scene to offer assistance. Father Pfeifer also noted that ironically, the battalion chief’s name was Joseph Pfeifer – no relation. Their documentary showed what the firefighters did to help evacuate those fleeing the burning building, how they set up a plan to save people and how firefighters – including the chief’s brother – rushed up into the burning building on a journey from which many would never return.
“It showed the immediate aftermath of the crumble of the towers and how the firefighters used the camera light to lead them to safety,” he said, noting the smoke and debris were so intense that they couldn’t see anything. Viewers also saw them return day after day, digging through the rubble hoping they could save more victims.
He said it was striking to see that as many people ran from the buildings, the first responders ran towards them. “Rather than running the other way and protecting themselves, they ran right into the danger where they were needed the most,” Father Pfeifer said, adding, “It’s what Jesus’ life was all about. Taking up his cross, the way of life that Jesus lived was a life of running right into the face of danger to save others, going to who, what and where he was needed. When someone needed him, Jesus didn’t run the other way.”
Father Pfeifer said when someone needed mercy, healing or saving, Jesus was there – right in the middle of things. “Our God came, took on flesh not to serve himself, but to save us and rescue us.” An Eagle Scout himself, Father Pfeifer said scouts – especially Catholic scouts – promise in the scout oath to do their duty to God and to country, to obey the scout law and to always help others.
“The duty we are promising is to take up our cross just as Jesus did,” he said. “We may not ever be called to rush into a burning building in an attempt to save thousands of people or to rush into a lake to save someone who’s drowning – or maybe we will. But every time we pledge the words of the scout oath – and because we are Catholic – we promise to do just as Jesus did: to reach out to others in need of our help; to speak up for those who need it; to sacrifice when needed; to extend a hand to those who need to be lifted up; to take care of others rather than just taking care of ourselves.”
Each of us has the power to save lives, he said, both literally through the skills that scouts learn and figuratively by ways that we are willing to lay down our lives for others, “To do what we can, like the first responders of Sept. 11, 2001 to reach out where help is needed and to make a difference in the lives of whomever we can. As scouts and Catholics, the cross, the challenge to make a difference, the challenge to reach out, the challenge to sacrifice, the challenge to make others’ lives better isn’t something we run away from. It’s something that we run toward,” Father Pfeifer said.
Bishop Malesic thanked him “for the excellent homily,” noting how important it is to make younger people aware of the 9/11 events. “We have to share it to make sure they know and understand the sacrifice,” he added.
The bishop also congratulated the award winners an encouraged them to continue their relationship with Christ, explaining that if they don’t work on that relationship, it will fade. He said we’re always thirsting for a better relationship and should never forget the solid foundation they get from scouting. “Come to know Jesus. Let him lead you. Listen to God and let him speak to you, then focus on that message,” he said.
“He knows your name; he knows what’s in your heart and he asks you to give your life to him. He only wants what’s best for you. And in the end, he gives you life,” the bishop added.
After Mass, the bishop presented the following awards to scouts:
- The Ad Altare Dei award, which was designed to help scouts develop a Christian way of life in the faith community, focusing on the sacraments as a primary means of spiritual development and how a person can grow as a friend of Jesus through them.
- The Pope Pius XII program was designed to help scouts explore the concept of vocation and to discuss issues facing the Church today.
- Pillars of Faith recognizes scouts who have earned all four religious emblems.
- Cub Scouts who earned awards also were acknowledged as a group.
He presented the Bronze Pelican award to adult scouters who have demonstrated outstanding character, given positive leadership and exemplified a Christian way of living and the St. George award, which recognizes clergy, religious and laity – scouters or not – who made a significant impact on and outstanding contributions to the spiritual development of Catholic youth in the scouting program.
The National Catholic Unit Excellence Award, Pope Paul VI, recognizes Catholic chartered units for their cooperation, development and programming focused on the Catholic faith. These units have leaders who are concerned with spiritual growth and youth who participate in religious emblem programs.
In addition, the Diocese of Cleveland’s Catholic Committee on Scouting again earned the National Quality Diocese Award recognizing it for promoting and achieving a quality Catholic scouting [program.
The scouting program is under the auspices of the Office for Youth Ministry, which is directed by Francine Costantini.