SILVER SPRING, Md. — Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory wore a white hard hat instead of a miter as he walked down the aisle on April 26 for the second annual Builders’ Memorial Day Mass at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring.
The pastor who organized the Mass, Franciscan Father Brian Jordan, also wore a hard hat during the procession.
The cardinal ceremonially passed and incensed 20 similar hard hats placed on chairs in a semicircle in front of the sanctuary, with a red rose next to each.
Nineteen of the hats bore the name of a construction worker who died on construction sites in Washington, Maryland and Virginia last year. The 20th seat represented the 261 construction workers who died from COVID-19 in the past year.
“Our prayer is for their peace in Christ and in gratitude for the works of their hands,” the cardinal said in his homily.
Behind him hung six banners on the church walls representing the Baltimore-DC Building Trades Council and local unions for steamsmiths, plumbers and gas fitters, sheet metal workers, electricians, painters and related trades.
The Memorial Mass for Construction Workers was held as part of International Workers Memorial Day, which is observed annually on April 28th. She was attended by hundreds of men and women who are members of local construction unions.
“Today we gather to commemorate all the construction workers who have died in the course of their work. We commemorate the families of these workers who continue to mourn their deaths. We also remember those who have been seriously injured or whose deaths may have been a result of the pandemic,” Cardinal Gregory said.
He said this is also a time to be thankful for their work and the care they gave to their families and loved ones.
The cardinal noted that Jesus spoke to a variety of workers, including fishermen, teachers, lawyers, judges, tax collectors, tentmakers, and carpenters.
“Above all, Jesus seemed to have made people believe that they were much more than their jobs, more than their work, more than their skills. He spoke to their hearts. He brought out the best in people. He made her dream. He still does,” Cardinal Gregory said.
He also emphasized that Jesus recognizes these workers as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, neighbors and benefactors to their communities.
During the Mass, Father Jordan asked the community to stand for “a sacred moment, now commemorating, the reading of the names of our 19 brothers who have died since April 28, 2021.” He said 13 of the 19 men who died were Hispanic and all 19 who died on construction sites were non-union workers.
“It has been a constant statistic here in the United States for many, many years, the use and abuse of our Latino brothers and sisters,” the priest said.
Juan Sotelo, an electrician with IBEW Local 26 attending Mass at St. Matthias the Apostle Church in Lanham, Maryland, read the names of the 19 construction workers who died on the job and a large bell outside the church rang as each man’s name was read. Then he said for the 20th chair in front of the altar: “All the brothers and sisters in the construction industry who have died from COVID-19.”
After Communion, the human face of this loss was revealed when Father Jordan invited a woman to join him. “This is the wife of one of our parishioners who died in February of this year,” he said, recalling Hermenegildo Avizurez Chajon, a St. Camillus parishioner who died on Feb. 21 at a Baltimore construction site. The worker’s wife, Lodia, stood up with the priest, who addressed her in Spanish and offered her the prayer support of the congregation.
“They just want to go to work and go back to their families,” the priest said.
He thanked Cardinal Gregory for celebrating Mass and the congregation applauded.
To the workers in the parish, Father Jordan said, “The Church has not forgotten you and please do not forget us.”
Zimmermann is the editor of the Catholic Standard, a newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.