Editor's Note: This is a longer version of the print story.
DAVENPORT, Iowa — Picture thousands of men and women in the military praying the Rosary.
That’s one of the major hopes of U.S. Army chaplain Father William Kneemiller for his Holy Land Military Rosary project.
Currently on duty in the Middle East, Father Kneemiller, who holds the rank of major, would like to distribute the free rosaries to as many chaplains and servicemen and women as possible.
His project, which he founded while pastor of St. Joseph parish in his home diocese of Davenport, Iowa, has two main goals.
“One is to give these rosaries to military chaplains so that the military [members] have a little piece of the Holy Land, especially those in harm’s way,” Father Kneemiller said in a phone conversation from his current assignment.
As a member of the Army Reserves, this is his third deployment since 2004, the others being Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It [this rosary] is perfect for that because the cord is military-grade parachute,” he said. He often loosely paraphrases Isaiah’s prophecy that swords will be turned into plowshares (2:4) as “Parachute cords will be turned into rosary cords.”
His second main goal is for the family to pray the Rosary for peace. “If we don’t have a conversion of the heart and prayer of the heart,” he explained, “we won’t have any real, substantive change. That’s why the parish mission and praying of the family Rosary is so important. It’s the continuing vision of Father [Patrick] Peyton.” Father Peyton, who is a Servant of God, founded the Family Rosary apostolate (FamilyRosary.org).
Once they heard Father Kneemiller’s aims, members of Sts. Mary and Mathias Church in Muscatine, Iowa, made and gave 650 “Holy Land Military Rosaries” to each child in the parish school and religious-education program, plus to teachers and volunteers.
Home and Other Fronts
“We have a very strong devotion to Mary in our parish — and to Divine Mercy and adoration,” said Michelle Schaapveld. “We’ve made 2,500 rosaries in this parish [to date]. Everything now is strictly for the Holy Land Military Rosaries. Every cent raised goes for the supplies.”
Each rosary costs only $2.47 to make. Volunteers also make cases for every rosary from the remnant pants and jeans fabrics donated by the Land’s End company.
The Holy Land Military Rosary project has given rise to two more important missions — helping Holy Land Catholic Christians and exceptionally poor people in Haiti.
Ghassan Al Sahouri, at Little Bethlehem (Little-Bethlehem.org), designed the two-inch crucifix for the rosaries, working as a team with his wife, Siham, and Father Kneemiller.
The crucifixes are hand-carved of olive wood, and carving them created jobs for the suffering Catholics in Bethlehem and “gave an opportunity for the children to have as joyful, peaceful and secure of a life as we can give,” Al Sahouri said. Many families are involved in the carving, and it is their single means of livelihood.
“This is Jesus’ corpus, his crucifix. This is his olive tree [from] where he prayed and walked, and we deliver these to bless our military everywhere,” noted Al Sahouri.
“Spiritually, it is protecting our soldiers and financially helping our families, and it is sending a message of peace from the land of the peace of Christ to all the nations going and defending the word of God,” he observed. “So it’s connecting all the nations under one for the peace of Christ.”
And, thanks to this project, several hundred of the poorest in Haiti — where unemployment hovers around 70% — now have part-time employment to earn a living wage, too.
Members of the Iowa branch of ServeHAITI have helped residents of Grand-Bois, Haiti, by bringing rosary-making supplies.
Last year, this project employed 300 Haitians part time but paid them the full living wage ($40 a month). Plus, another 4,000 rosaries were available for U.S. military personnel.
For more job opportunities for Haitians, Al Sahouri pointed out that some of the olive-wood crosses and pewter corpuses are now sent out for the Haitians to assemble.
“We are one family of five different nations,” he said, “but we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The volunteers in the Davenport diocesan parishes work with enthusiasm and determination to supply rosaries for today’s troops.
At St. Mary Church in Fairfield, Iowa, Gerry Garles leads a group of six women in rosary-making. Since Garles’ father is an Iwo Jima survivor, she believes this is “a great project.”
“As crazy as it is right now in our country and the world, you can feel helpless sometimes,” she said. “Saying the Rosary is one thing I can do right now.”
“This is a way to give the men and women some peace and assurance people are praying for them,” she said. “It shows they’re not alone in their battle. We’re all in the same battalion.”
Mary Nord in Clinton, Iowa, chuckles that she is her parish’s “chief of distributions.” She even promotes them on a one-to-one basis locally. Volunteering at local hospitals, she brightened the spirits of a young man in a critical-care unit after giving him a rosary.
“I see this as a great project because of who it benefits,” Nord said, listing all those you are touched by it, from Haiti to military personnel.
“It’s actually promoting praying the Rosary — that’s the purpose of it.”
Even more will benefit now that Lighthouse Catholic Media is partnering with Holy Land Military Rosary. The handmade rosaries will go to chaplains who request them in all military branches worldwide.
The Vision Expands
“Typically at a parish in the military, when I mention I have extra rosaries, 70% to 80% [of people] want them,” Father Kneemiller finds. “The interest in the military rosary is very pronounced.” He’s told, “This is what we need and what we want.”
Preparing for deployment at the combined bases of the Army’s Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, Father Kneemiller handed out rosaries at the chapel. The base chaplain was very supportive, as were many others there. Several women wanted to make the rosaries, and they formed an active group to make them.
“There are so many ways this can take off,” said Father Kneemiller, who was a guest on EWTN’s The Journey Home in October 2014.
More rosaries would also fulfill his vision of every Catholic schoolchild — thousands of them — in larger cities also receiving these special rosaries.
The schoolchildren can then be the catalyst to have their families start praying the family Rosary again.
“The real goal is for individuals and for families to pray,” the priest explained. “The answer to the problems of the world is the family praying the Rosary together.”
“We need — and our world needs — prayer. We need the graces that come from intercessory prayer, and we need families to be united in prayer, as opposed to all the different influences, the nonstop noise and the violence, we’re bombarded with in the media.”
Homeland Troops Join Up
Kathleen Quinn, who oversees Holy Land Military Rosary’s office activities and distribution of rosaries and cases, believes the current strife in the world makes Father Kneemiller’s mission extremely important.
“I believe that Father Bill’s Holy Land Rosary mission is more than timely,” she emphasized. “It is what I would call ‘critical’ — and could actually help in bringing about real peace in the Middle East and in our troubled country, as well. As St. Padre Pio said, ‘The Rosary is the weapon for our times.’ How much more perfect could it be than to have thousands of military men and women carrying and reciting the Rosary along with their other more ‘conventional’ weapons. I cannot help but think of things like the Battle of Lepanto.”