As we enter into Holy Week we are invited to think about our connection with the Church around the world, particularly with our sisters and brothers who are serving in isolated and deployed locations. Some of the most significant Holy Week celebrations have been those where I was deployed. There is something about the shared suffering and isolation from friends and family that ties us in a deeper way to the celebration of the Paschal Triduum and the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. In preparing for Holy Week I found myself reflecting on those times I have celebrated with Soldiers deployed or in the field. One particular event that comes to mind was the celebration of Easter in 2012, while stationed in Korea.
After celebrating Easter Mass at Camp Red Cloud I boarded a UH60 Blackhawk to provide Easter Mass for Soldiers training at Rodriquez Range Complex near the DMZ. After a short flight my KATUSA and I arrived at the training complex and were met by the unit chaplain who transported us to his Soldiers who were anticipating my arrival and the celebration of the Easter Mass. Walking into the makeshift chapel building we were greeted by 40 or so Soldiers. My KATUSA set up for mass as I heard confessions. Following mass as we were packing up and talking with several of the Soldiers a young Marine, artillery officer; a First Lieutenant walked in, he had gotten word there was a Catholic chaplain in the area and had come seeking him out. After greeting him he asked if I would be willing to come to his platoons training area and conduct Easter Mass for them. Looking at my watch I told him I had about an hour and a half before my flight. He assured me he would have me back to the LZ in time.
With that, we got in his HUMMV and headed to his platoon of Marines. Upon arriving he shouted, “I have the padre with me get over here if you want to celebrate Easter mass.” With that about fifteen dirty and disheveled Marines crawl out of their vehicles. Immediately a couple of them pull up a couple of empty, well I think they were empty, artillery crates for a makeshift altar. Again my KATUSA sets up for mass while I hear confessions. As I am preparing to begin mass a couple of Marines come over one of them says, “Chaps, we aren’t Catholic but would you mind if we attend?” I told them they and any of their buddies that wanted to attend were welcomed to. It was a breezy and balmy March day and as we were celebrating mass a light snow flurry began to fall. After finishing Mass each of the Marines thanked me for coming to them and celebrating mass for them. After saying goodbye, and offering a special blessing for their protection and safety, the LT dove us to the LZ and waited with us until our “bird” arrived. As we departed he again thanked me and told me how much Mass meant to his Marines and him. I responded, “It’s moments like this that I decided to become a chaplain.”
While have enjoyed the celebration of Easter in the parish or a chapel, it is the type of moments in the above story that remind me of what it means to be called to the missionary work of the Army Chaplain and the impact it can have. As we enter Holy Week and prepare for the celebration of the Easter mysteries I would encourage you to pray for and remember all those who will not be able to celebrate with family and friends because of deployment or geographical separation. We might also do well to remember those who celebrate at risk to their own life because they live in lands where Christians are persecuted. In celebrating of the mass we pray in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters scattered throughout the world, and who make up the “Body of Christ.” Peace and goodness be with each of you in this Holy Week.