For many Americans, the last Monday in May means the beginning of summertime fun.
For veterans and their families, however, Memorial Day’s true purpose is clear: it’s a day to honor those who have died serving their country in the armed forces.
Deacon John Scott, who spent 35 years in the Army and retired as a major general, knows that for veterans who survived combat, healing and forgiveness often prove elusive. Deacon Scott and other local Catholics are working to change that.
“They need to know that whatever they did, if it was violent or they are not pleased with what they did, that they are forgiven,” Deacon Scott said. “Then they have to learn how to forgive themselves.”
One way veterans might find help is through a workshop offered by the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale May 16-18.
Ministry to veterans and military families
When: 6-9 p.m. third Wednesday of the month
Info: firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 948-7460
Call to verify meeting date and time.
The Healing of Memories Workshop was created by Fr. Michael Lapsley, an Anglican missionary priest, who in 1990 suffered the loss of his hands and the sight in one eye from a letter bomb that was sent to him in Zimbabwe by a supporter of the pro-apartheid government in South Africa. After a long recovery from the bombing, Fr. Lapsley decided to dedicate his life to helping victims of emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds inflicted by war, human rights abuses and other traumatic circumstances.
Mike Wold, an Our Lady of Joy parishioner and Navy veteran, is the program manager for Healing of the Memories for Veterans. Many veterans return from combat, he said, with troubled thoughts and recurrent nightmares. Talking about the experiences in a supportive environment can be helpful.
“Everyone has a story to tell that needs to be heard, acknowledged and respected,” Wold said. “Particularly with veterans, when the story is told in a trusted, well-facilitated environment, it has a healing effect.”
The facilitators at the workshop, some of whom are veterans themselves, tell stories and that helps participants in the workshop to open up.
“It’s pure listening. There is no advice,” Wold said. “The only thing that happens is affirmation, that yes, I heard what you said.”
Connections begin to happen as veterans see that the other person has “been there.” Wold said mentoring occurs “between veterans from Vietnam who have figured a little bit out and between veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Dean Pedrotti, a Phoenix fire captain, has been working with veterans through the Franciscan Renewal Center for the last four years. He’s not a veteran himself, but as a first responder, he feels a kinship with those who have served in the armed forces.
Pedrotti referenced the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in which 343 fire fighters and paramedics were killed. In the weeks and months following the attacks, many young people joined the armed forces.
“They literally became first responders and so there is a very close relationship to this group of individuals,” Pedrotti said. Training firefighters to be aware of the special needs and issues veterans face has been a priority for Pedrotti. “We hit the road. We’ve trained maybe 3,500 first responders,” he said.
Patti Sills-Trausch, director of the faith in action ministry at the Franciscan Renewal Center, said the Healing of the Memories workshop is one of several activities directed toward veterans. The center has an active outreach to military veterans and families ministry that meets monthly.
“Healing and transformation are two of our core beliefs at the Franciscan Renewal Center,” Sills-Trausch said. “We want to be that place where people feel safe and they come and experience healing.”
Veterans attend the workshop for free, but Sill-Trausch said the center is hoping for sponsors so that the workshop could be held more than once a year. She also mentioned the pilgrimage to Assisi in February of 2015 that veterans can make. Franciscan scholars point to St. Francis of Assisi’s own military service and experience as a prisoner of war as something today’s veterans can learn from.