By Jeff Grant
The Catholic Sun
AVONDALE — Honoring military service members of all faiths the Sunday before Veterans Day, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the sixth annual Red, White and Blue Mass, drawing an estimated 1,500 people — including many veterans and their families — to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Nov. 6.
“Today’s military is all-volunteer. It wasn’t always that way. (This Mass) is a spiritual way to let people know who served,” explained lector Gus Oviedo, a retired Coast Guard member from St. Thomas Aquinas.
The nearly-hour-and-a-half liturgy opened with a procession of flags from all service branches: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard; with members of the Knights of Columbus serving as the honor guard. A candle-lighting by military members, followed, and later there were prayers for veterans.
In his homily, Fr. Greg Menegay of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Scottsdale, a onetime Army radio mechanic, told the congregation that life — like a military obstacle course — can present challenges that can be overcome through “constant sharpening of the skills of the faith: prayer, the Sacraments, study of scripture and service.”
“You always have to look at those obstacles and figure out, ‘How do I deal with it? How do I go over, under and through it because I can’t go around it.’ When you negotiate (them), you feel a sense of accomplishment; you feel stronger in your faith. You feel closer to Christ because you have moved past whatever it was that drew you away.”
Service members said they were touched by the message and expressions of support for veterans.
“It was great. If you can go through the ropes of the course, you can go through the obstacles of life. You don’t have to be military to like this Mass,” said 18-year-old Reinholdt Heck, a St. Thomas Aquinas parishioner preparing for Army basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The Diocese of Phoenix marks its sixth annual Red, White and Blue Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Avondale, Ariz., Nov. 6. The occasion honored active and retired service men and women and recalled those who died in service to the country. Veterans Day is Nov. 11. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)
“It was beautiful. It fills you with pride,” added Cmdr. Elie Suida, a longtime member of the Navy Reserve and parishioner from St. Thomas Aquinas. “I’m retired, but I still work with men and women returning from Afghanistan and the Gulf. We still care about our veterans, and we want them to know that,” she said.
“The military is a brotherhood. It doesn’t matter what branch you serve in. We have all served our nation, and we’re proud of that service, and this is one way we honor that,” said Tim Kraemer, a St. James the Greater parishioner and member of the Army whose service included tours in Vietnam and mobilization for Desert Storm as well as operations in the Balkans.
Reliance on one’s faith is key to a soldier’s well-being, and the Mass is a vehicle of outreach to discouraged or struggling vets, said Dcn. Ron Tenbarge of St. James Parish in Glendale.
“The pressure and challenge of military life can do one of two things: it can draw you closer or separate you (from your faith) to some degree. You’re reaching out (here) to those and try to draw them back in and recognize their service. Our country needs to do that.”