August 5, 2007

"Watchmen on the walls of world freedom"

From the story of a Catholic chaplain in Iraq...

We rolled into Forward Operating Base, Rivera, the center of operations for 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in the town of Saqlawiyah. The Civil Affairs Group and the 2/7 chaplain were transporting me so that I could make Catholic Sacramental and Pastoral visits to all their Battle Positions.

There is no separate space to set apart for Mass or a religious service, so I set up in the area where they eat and recreate which is also used as the triage area for the wounded. Foot patrols were returning after an eight hour shift through the night and others were departing on their shift. Marines and Corpsmen were rushing about trying to get a bite to eat and get ready to sleep for a few hours. Despite the intense operational tempo and grueling schedule, a group of Marines led by their Company Commanding Officer gathered in the corner for the Mass. Mass in these settings emerges from a kit smaller than a shoe box that I carry on my back. I am set up in minutes — drab olive colored Altar Linen are set down and a crucifix, chalice and paten made of brushed steel are assembled from their small compact parts and easily set in place. A copy of The Word Among Us is passed between them and me for the prayers and readings. The Altar is a wooden bench — the best piece of furniture in the room.

There is no singing, no stained glass, no pews or kneelers — just intense fervor reflected in their eyes and the bare floor beneath their knees. No one ever leaves anyone else out of the Sign of Peace. From the senior officer to the lowest enlisted Marine, embraces are exchanged and sincere wishes of peace are authentic and heart-felt! Holy Communion! I have never experienced communion like that among men who know that this could be their last! The Mass is brief but its effects are enduring...

—  —  —  —  —  —  —  —

....The next part of their story however, was quite tragic and very painful for them to relate. They had grown close to the Iraqi family that had lived in the house. The family would often cook them a hot meal and share their table with them. Their five year old son had grown very fond of the Marines and they of him. He would stop by every day to see them. That day he was arriving outside just as the bomb detonated. With tears in their eyes they described how they tried to save him, using all their combat medical skills but there was nothing that they could do. Their grief is palpable and their sadness deep. We gathered for Mass in the small yard where they once listened to the laughter of a little boy. We celebrated Holy Communion with God, with each other and, in our hearts, with a young Muslim boy — may he rest in peace!... (Thanks to Argent)

I suspect there's a special deep circle of Hell for the scoundrel dogs who are heaping lies and abuse on our troops, and those of our allies. And a extra sub-basement for those who pretend that their scurrility has anything to do with Christian hopes for peace.

Stories of the decency and great-heartedness of our soldiers and Marines, and the ways they risk their own lives to save and protect people in distant lands are extremely common, if one bothers to look. These are the true Christians of our time. They are not passing on the other side of the road. They are not eager to abandon the wretched of the earth to the savagery of terrorists and tyrants. I just wish I could be with them.

“We in this country, in this generation, are, by destiny rather than choice, the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, goodwill toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago, ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”
John F. Kennedy
Undelivered luncheon speech
Dallas, Texas
Nov. 22, 1963

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at August 5, 2007 6:43 AM
Weblog by John Weidner