AVONDALE — The diocesan Red, White and Blue Mass Nov. 8 marked the Church’s signature effort to honor veterans and service personnel who bravely stepped up for war and peacetime duty.
Fr. John Hannigan, a chaplain at the Phoenix VA Medical Center, highlighted in his homily Nov. 8 why members of the military need the Church’s support and practical ways to do so. The priest, who joined the Navy, but spent more time with the U.S. Marines, said the simple reason is because veterans and current service members put their lives on the line for the freedom and peace Americans treasure daily.
“A veteran is someone who at one point in their life, wrote a blank check to America,” Fr. Hannigan said.
The military chaplain said the more complex reason Catholics should support veterans, those on active duty and their families relates to spiritual wounds. He recalled reminding the commanding officer en route home from Iraq that some weren’t coming back.
Others had their houses burned down while away and some faced divorce. Challenges can run deeper.
“There are so many veterans today, which I see day in and day out… warriors with moral injuries and spiritually wounded,” Fr. Hannigan said. “The media talks about them being broken or damaged goods of being labeled ‘victims.’ I don’t buy it.”
He used a series of quotes from Abraham Lincoln — who led the country during the Civil War — to remind Massgoers that veterans are team-centered, strong and action-oriented. It’s important to listen to what they have to say, especially when it comes to lessons of perseverance, Fr. Hannigan said.
Veterans live out God’s message of love, peace and freedom, the military chaplain said. “So today and every day, let us give our … coins of tribute in the form of what we do for them, how we pray for them and how we honor them.”
Honor beyond Mass
Local Catholic ministries do just that, especially in the weeks surrounding Veterans Day.
This marks the 11th year that Knights of Columbus in the West Valley have coordinated a Veterans and Service Personnel Appreciation Dinner. The Father Joseph T. O’Callahan Assembly 2669 coordinates the effort, fitting since the assembly — the patriotic arm of the Knights — is named after a Jesuit Catholic Chaplain who received the Medal of Honor after surviving an attack aboard a ship near Japan 60 years ago.
Knights of Columbus members connected with local military office locations to ensure a member from each branch of the service was honored at the Nov. 14 dinner and received a certificate. Organizers expected another sell out with up to 140 people showing appreciation for 20-25 guests.
“People who have been come back because it is something patriotic. They see young people in dress uniforms and can thank them personally for their service,” said Eddie Zuleger, a former First Lieutenant in the Army who helped coordinate the dinner and said he loves seeing the Marine uniform.
Additional images/video showcases how the local Catholic community honored veterans outside of Mass
One veteran, Eliseo C. Felix Jr., a one-time altar server at St. John Vianney in Goodyear, was honored posthumously. He was killed in Operation Desert Storm. His parents attended in his honor.
This marked the first year honoring veterans across the generations who fought in: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, but special guests aren’t limited to combat veterans. The Knights of Columbus also recognize active duty personnel saluting those stationed abroad or on a ship ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
Guests heard from Stephen Campos, a Vietnam veteran and author during the formal program and Sgt. Major JJ Jones, who dressed as a Buffalo Soldier for his talk. Zuleger said the guest speakers help the honorees take pride in their calling and in their country.
Area veterans joined in brief programs at diocesan schools and left with prayers and “thank you” cards. This marked the second year students at Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler fared well in an “Honoring Arizona’s Veterans” essay contest. Thibault Denamiel, a junior, placed third for his essay focused on Korean War veterans.
Denamiel, who emigrated with his family from France four years ago, values freedom and peace more and more, especially with growing fear among citizens during annual visits home.
“They do not feel comfortable anymore; they feel helpless. That is because so few are now willing to go fight for their nation. In the streets of France, no one will ever say ‘thank you for your service’ to a soldier,” Denamiel wrote.
They should, he contended. He joined the entire Seton student body and faculty in offering an annual Rosary for the United States of America on Veterans Day. Instead of the typical mysteries reflecting on Jesus’ life, prayers turned toward the branches of government, military and all 50 states.
Community services for veterans
Phoenix’s Crosier priests and brothers are helping veterans heal spiritually. It’s a largely unmet need until now, Fr. Bob Rossi said.
They’re partway through a pilot “CrossWalk: A Veterans’ Journey to Healing” program. Over 12 two-hour monthly meetings, the veterans — who span the generations and experience of combat — take a tailored, private journey through the Stations of the Cross.
So when Jesus was condemned in the First Station, the veterans also examined self-condemning as a result of their service or actions by others. Facilitators, including the priests, veterans and trauma specialists, challenge them to identify a source of healing and hope.
“It’s very, very simple, but very, very profound,” Fr. Rossi said.
Similar journeys for female veterans and military families are on the drawing board.
The Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale holds annual picnics for veterans and their families plus workshops for veterans to heal their memories. Catholic Charities Community Services will amp up its outreach to veterans experiencing homelessness after assuming operational oversight of the Madison Street Veterans Association Oct. 1.