|Captain Joel Panzer, Catholic battalion chaplain, celebrates Mass at Camp Liberty near Baghdad, Iraq. Courtesy photo|
The Archdiocese For the Military Services, USA, based in Washington, D.C., serves 1.5 million Catholics at stateside and overseas bases, veterans’ hospitals and combat zones.
In a September Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio called on believers to follow the example of Servant of God Father Vincent Capodanno, who was killed Sept. 4, 1967, as he ministered to dying Marines on a battlefield in Vietnam.
“Yet, I am certain that he was convinced that he was only doing his duty, realizing his apostolate and serving those in need,” Archbishop Broglio said. “We honor him so as to cultivate within ourselves that same spirit of devotion and fidelity. Putting into practice his example would be the highest form of praise.”
There are currently 31 new seminarians intending to serve in the military, up from only three in 2001. They will begin filling the critical shortage of chaplains who, like Father Capodanno, Archbishop Broglio said, bring “consolation, encouragement and even physical support” to our troops.
There were 400 chaplains in 2001. Now there are 274, and three tell their stories of the blessings of serving with the Armed Forces.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
|Care Packages for Troops|
On Nov. 12, volunteers will meet at the West Virginia National Guard Facility near Wheeling to fill 15,000 Christmas stockings for Boatsie’s Boxes, a project that sends care packages to troops overseas. Another 8,000 filled stockings will come from local schools, groups and individuals.
“Even though the economy is dipping, there has been no change in our level of donations,” Gail “Boatsie” Van Vranken of Wheeling said. “I think it’s because of the high regard that Americans have for the men and women who are serving.”
Boatsie’s Boxes (boatsie.com) was founded in 2004 when her son, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Van Vranken, forwarded a request to help troops deployed near Baghdad. Now Boatsie’s Boxes ships out about 50 boxes a week to groups of military personnel.
“We send out whatever is needed, so that I am not sending toothbrushes if they need blankets,” she said.
This year’s Christmas budget is about $50,000. Year-round support comes from the local community, from school children in her parish, St. Michael’s Parish in Wheeling, and, since an appearance on “Fox and Friends,” from people all over the nation.
“There’s nobody in the world like Americans, and they want to step in and help whenever they can,” Van Vranken said. “Organizations like mine show our gratitude and support to the men and women whose sacrifice every day is enormous.”
In September, the staff and residents of St. Anne’s Nursing Center and Residence in Miami supported a care package project through Forgotten Soldiers Outreach (forgottensoldiers.org) in Lake Worth, Fla. They will collect toiletries, reading materials and candies this month.
“We have several veterans from World War II and the Korean War living with us, and it gives them a sense of pride that they are able to contribute,” said executive director Tony Farinella, an Army veteran who served in Germany in the Cold War era. “It also provides a sense of connection to the people who are sacrificing so much. So often, because of the lengths of these two wars, the soldiers get forgotten except for the holidays.”
Mission Capodanno in Front Royal, Va., has distributed nearly $2 million in Catholic supplies to chaplains and troops around the world. Missioncapodanno.org also has military-related articles, plus information on Navy Reserve Chaplain Lt. Vincent R. Capodanno, who was killed in Vietnam and is the subject of a sainthood cause. He is also the posthumous recipient of a Medal of Honor.
For other organizations that send care packages, visit ourmilitary.mil.
Chaplain, flock look forward to special holiday
Thanksgiving dinner will have special meaning to soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division at Camp Liberty near Baghdad.
“We will be preparing to go back to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii in late November and early December,” said Capt. Joel Panzer, the Catholic battalion chaplain. “We will have a special Mass and a special meal as we wind down on our way out of Iraq.”
Father Panzer, 43, was ordained in 1994 in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and joined the Army in 2006. He previously was administrator of a Catholic school and pastor of North American Martyrs Catholic Church in Lincoln.
There are about 800 soldiers in the battalion, and 25 percent are Catholic. Father Panzer ministers to them and also travels farther for soldiers who don’t have priests in their units.
“My soldiers are my congregation and I take care of them like I would take care of my parish in Nebraska,” he said. “I feel blessed to have this sort of ministry.”
Being in the military made him stronger physically and in his outlook on life. His work with all soldiers, not just Catholics, made him more aware of other religions.
“It changed my perspective of military personnel and showed me how much they endure,” Father Panzer said. “I had this perspective that soldiers were all tough and strong, physically well-conditioned people who could go off to war and handle it well. But they are vulnerable people, too. Deployments and life in general wear them down. They are very human and much in need of the same things we all need — the help and support to go off and do a tough job.”
Great source of comfort
He sees their gratitude that their families and friends stand behind them while they are away.
“They tell me that they are grateful that people in the churches back home are praying for them. Those prayers and thoughts give them great comfort,” he said. “Their faith life, the grace of God, is part of what gives them the ability to handle the challenges and loneliness. Having a chapel where they can go to church, like they did back home, helps greatly, too. They also find a lot of strength and comfort in each other.”
Father Panzer sees some blessings in facing his own mortality in a dangerous environment.
“It gives me a sense of peace to know that God is with us when we are flying around in a helicopter or having Mass in an armored convoy,” he said. “We realize that at any time, something may happen. Turning everything over to God and accepting that gives a certain amount of peace and requires a great amount of trust in this sort of ministry.”