November 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 4

His Healing Presence

Keeping God Near In A Time Of War

A photo of a military vehicle in IraqAt the moment few places in the world seem less at peace than Iraq. And yet, here, the Church reaches out to embrace the suffering with the love of Jesus.

While only one percent of the population of this overwhelming Muslim nation is Catholic, that still adds up to 280,000 people. And the work of the Church, in place for some time, continues despite the fighting.

Through the years, the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and its sister-society for children, the Holy Childhood Association, have sent thousands of dollars to support catechetical centers, young men preparing for the priesthood, and educational efforts directed at children.

Christ's presence is felt in another way in modern-day Iraq, one quite different from that of catechetical centers and seminary classrooms. The Church reaches out with hope and encouragement in the person of the American Catholic military chaplain, who must contend with a variety of challenges and dangers to do his job.

One such chaplain, Father (Major) Samuel Giese, an Army reservist from Washington, D.C., kept readers back home informed about his year-long 2005 tour in Iraq through a series of award-winning columns in the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper. They were all movingly written and all memorable, few more so than one in which he described the death of a U.S.. Army officer and his Iraqi interpreter after an explosion.

After informing other members of the officer's team, he gathers them for prayer. Before long a helicopter arrives at the airfield to bring the fallen home.

"The rest of us watch and without a verbal command come to attention and salute as the bodies are moved," Father Giese writes. "When they are in place, those carrying the bodies walk to the side of the airfield, turn and join the rest of us in our salute as the choppers lift off."

"The aircraft dispatched for these missions are referred to as an 'Angel Flight' and that occurs to me at that moment. Somehow the thought of angels consoles me a bit. But if there is anything that consoles the soldiers around me I do not know. We are still; a collection of motionless men and women clothed in perspiration-soaked uniforms and eyes hidden by sunglasses, sweat mingling with tears on many faces. We are wrapped in a silence so solemn that no one dares break it with mere words. So we stand together in the hot Iraqi sun watching the choppers bear away the bodies of two courageous men, one to remain here in his native land and the other to America, his home, and the home of the brave."

One of the other Iraq veteran chaplains knows that experience too. In an article in The Priest magazine, Father Michael Heninger, a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese who has put in two Iraq tours, wrote: "I don't think you can ever let it go, between those who died and those you met and the sadness of war. I think you try to grow through it, but it certainly gives me a reason to pause and pray for those other people and reflect upon what happened."

"Let's pray our soldiers home," he concluded, "by praying for peace."

Used with permission from MISSION magazine (July/August 2006).