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Members of the Calexico Fire Department rise during the traditional Mass for first responders held each in tribute to those killed on 9/11. The service and breakfast on Saturday, Sept. 11, is hosted by Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus. | KATHERINE RAMOS PHOTO

Traditional Mass for First Responders Continues in Calexico

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Knights of Columbus Event Has Been Held Every Year Since 9/11, Except for 2020 Due to Pandemic

CALEXICO — A long-running 9/11 tradition continued on Saturday, Sept. 11, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Calexico with a Mass and breakfast to honor the first responders of the Imperial Valley.

The Mass has been hosted by the church and the Knights of Columbus since Sept. 11, 2011, as a way to recognize local first responders after the attack and collapse of the Twin Towers in New York. The only year it was not held was in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the Mass, Father Jose Sosa thanked all the local fire personnel, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and Border Patrol agents present for their service to the Imperial Valley. Them doing their jobs has improved the lives of those who live in the Valley, Sosa said. He also thanked those who gave their lives in the 9/11 attacks.

“My brothers, sisters, firemen, policemen, everyday always put your lives in the hands of God. Remember you are very important to our Imperial Valley and thank you for your vocation,” Sosa said.

Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo spoke at the end of the Mass of the importance of never forgetting the events of 9/11. He spoke of the horror, the fear, and sadness that many felt across the country as the events in New York unfolded.

He remembered how patriotism shot up as a direct result of the attacks and how united the country was on the war in Afghanistan but lamented how patriotism has fallen off over the past 20 years, saying the country has broken apart. Gerardo added that people have forgotten what happened and the reason why the United States began the war in the first place.

Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo was invited to speak at the end of the Mass and breakfast for local first responders in memory of 9/11 on Saturday morning, Sept.11. The event was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Calexico and co-hosted by the church and the Knights of Columbus. | KATHERINE RAMOS PHOTO

Gerardo himself on that day back in 2001 had just woken up when his wife, an emergency communications dispatcher, called and told him to turn on the television. Just in time to see the second tower get hit by the second airliner, Gerardo said it didn’t feel real, like he was watching a movie or something similar.

“For me, how can you forget something like that? And as things progressed throughout the day, I felt angry, I cried; we were all in shock. And we felt like we all had to do something,” Gerardo said. “I don’t want people to forget about that day.”

Calexico fire Capt. Arnold Rivera woke up that morning at the end of his shift and did the same as Gerardo, watching the events live on the TV with the rest of his shift. They were all in shock.

“Even to this day you look back and it’s devasting, thinking about what happened … that those buildings are no longer there, about the people who perished that day,” Rivera said. “It should never ever be forgotten, never in history.”

George Laguna, a member of the Knights of Columbus, who helped organize the event to pay tribute to the fallen spoke with bitterness about the full military withdrawal from Afghanistan last month.

“It’s like the chief said, the tragedy happened, and we cannot let people forget it,” said Laguna, eyes lined with tears as he spoke. “Too many people lost their lives, and then we’re still over there for a 20-year war, we come back, and what did we really accomplish out there? Nothing.”

Toward the end of the Mass, when Gerardo was asked to speak, he finished with a call for unity.

“I leave you with a small request. Please go out there and continue praying for our nation’s healing. Our nation is wrong right now; the world is wrong right now, but we are the strongest nation in the world right now, and if we come back to good, we can heal,” the chief said. “No matter what religion or political party you follow, we need to be united together.”