Print Edition: March 8, 2015
Sign-up for our E-letter!
To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
The Christmas season can be a tough time to be a soldier in Afghanistan. So military chaplains are an important presence.
BY TOM HOOPESRegister Correspondent
Afghanistan — It’s an eight-year-old war already, and in spite of a planned
surge that promises to bring it to an end, it’s still tough for those who have
to be there.
at this time of the year — the Christmas
Season, including today’s feast of the Epiphany and ending with next Sunday’s
feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
a time of the year when military chaplains, rare at any time, are perhaps even
in a combat zone is often lonely,” said U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Timothy Parker,
who spent one Christmas deployed in Iraq.
then, there is precedent for spending Christmas this way, said Parker.
compared Christmas on the front to “the Holy Family, who had to trek across the
desert to another town, where there was no place to stay and in many ways they
make the best of what we have and are thankful for a warm place to stay,” he
said, “the company of good friends, a good meal in the chow hall, and being
able to attend Mass in a makeshift chapel or in the field.”
“makeshift Masses” are made possible by U.S. military chaplains.
Michael Duesterhaus has been deployed to combat areas three times, including
Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006. The Navy chaplain said “close teamwork, mission focus
and personal deprivations [can] deepen one’s faith” and recounted how “one
Marine, who I baptized, confirmed, and gave first holy Communion to in the Al
Anbar Province told me one night, ‘Catholicism is a tough religion. ... Have to
believe that the Eucharist is truly Jesus and not a symbol. And confession —
whoa, there’s a challenge. Yeah, it’s tough. But I’m a Marine. Who wants a
Army Lt. Col. Father Eric Albertson is a chaplain on the Afghan front — which
is about to become more crowded, with 30,000 new troops ordered by President
Obama Dec. 1.
when deployed is hard because of the separation,” said Father Albertson.
“However, we all become family to one another and celebrate it as much as we
said the troops decorate their living quarters and attend religious services.
troops put on holiday programs with carols and skits and even don Christmas
hats. He recalls one memorable Christmas when a squadron went on a special
mission to bring Santa — delivering a hot meal — to the base.
the Pakistan-Afghanistan border there are constant reminders of why the troops
are there. By sacrificing their Christmas, they may make Christmas possible for
months of al Qaeda attacks on civilians, this Christmas “most of the scheduled
programs are canceled,” Lahore, Pakistan, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha told UCA
news. “We shall discover the meaning of Christmas in a quiet way and hope for
the return of harmony and peace.”
Albertson said he believes they will. He described Afghanistan as “beautifully
mountainous in the north, with deserts in the south.” The people, he
said, “are extremely hospitable. … It is considered rude, for example, to not
spend at least 30 minutes discussing family and health at the beginning of
All the same, with Christianity
banned in Afghanistan, most Catholics in the area are troops from the U.S.
coalition. One in five of the 17,000 U.S. soldiers occupying eastern
Afghanistan is a Catholic. But in an area the size of New York state, there are
only six priests for the troops, according to Catholic News Service.
Those Catholics make do with what
Cpl. Andrew Roy Jr. of Holy Family
Parish in Watertown, N.Y., has led faith inquiry groups in Afghanistan.
A CNS report described how “on a
recent starlit night in eastern Afghanistan, five U.S. soldiers … discuss the
doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist.”
It described Roy as a “stocky
soldier with clear blue eyes and a forceful voice … wearing a wooden rosary
over his chest” who provides “an oasis of religious discussion … in the desert
Father Albertson knows many troops
like Roy. In the combat zone, soldiers become “far more open to prayer,” he
said. “Small-group prayers are quite common, and the chaplain is often invited
to lead them. Most every day I will hear someone call out: ‘Hey, chaps! Give us
a prayer (or blessing)!’”
He said there is a hunger in the
troops for religious literature. “Many read their Bibles nightly and will
frequently ask questions over lunch or before missions,” he said.
Finally, “I am often asked to bless
medals and rosaries that loved ones send from home,” he said. “The troops
devoutly carry these with them in combat, confident that Mary and the saints
are interceding for their protection.”
That confidence has made for some
Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti was
renowned for the care he showed those he commanded in Afghanistan. He received
the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously in September. His last words,
according to those with him when his division was assaulted with gunfire in an
Afghan ambush, were the Lord’s Prayer — followed by “Tell my family I love
Father Albertson, “Troops in a combat zone often become very close because of
the shared hardships and danger. Lifetime friendships develop and battlefield
reunions occur among those who have served together before.”
tells those he counsels in the combat zone that hardship can build
character. “If they can exercise this character in the demanding environment of
combat,” he tells troops, “they can exercise it anywhere.”
for those who will be heading to Afghanistan with the surge, “They can expect a
year of hard work in a complex and demanding combat environment,” the priest
said. “There will be intense moments of fear that will require them to maintain
But, at the same time, “there will
also be tremendous satisfaction, joy and incredible companionship. I always
remind them that the crucible of battle has produced some of the finest
Americans in our history.”
Marine Parker said that, in the end,
for troops overseas, the greatest feeling for the holidays is “the knowledge that
the sacrifice you are making is keeping
those at home safe.”
asked: “What could be a better gift to those we love?”
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kansas.
Copyright © 2015 EWTN News, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of material from this website without written permission is strictly prohibited.
Accessed from 220.127.116.11