By Fr. George Welzbacher
April 6, 2008
Looking for had news on the morality front? Today you don't have to look very far. Take for example the March 12th issue of the New York Times, which gave front-page publicity to the findings of a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, an agency of our federal government. The study, entitled The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, concluded that, though the over-all national average is somewhat skewed because of extremely heavy infection rates in certain groups, in the age group 14 to 19 on the average one in four of America's girls and young women is infected with at least one sexually transmitted disease. And among the infected some 15 percent had more than one such disease. Narrowing the focus to Minnesota, another bad news bulletin recently announced that the Minnesota House of Representatives has passed a bill that would subsidize the use and destruction of human embryos for scientific research. This is the Kahn-Cohen bill. Shifting one's gaze overseas, one might take note of a meeting on March 7th between Pope Benedict and Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of nominally Catholic Luxembourg. Pope Benedict expressed regret that Mr. Juncker's political party, the Christian Social Democratic Party, had failed in its effort to block passage of legislation by Luxembourg's parliament to legalize euthanasia for those judged by "experts' to be terminally ill. In taking such action Luxembourg's parliament was following in the footsteps of its next door neighbor The Netherlands, which legalized euthanasia in 2002 (thus giving legal cover to what had been defacto the practice for years.)
So enough already! How about some Good News! Though not reported under banner headlines in your average daily newspaper, there still are dramatic shafts of light that stab through the gloom, bearing witness to the fact that heroic souls are still responding to God's call to self-sacrificial service. Let me cite two recent examples: A report that appeared in the March 7th issue of The Wall Street Journal about a heroic young American priest whose cause has been introduced for possible canonization; and a letter I received on March 12th from a new American order of nuns, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. This is a group of zealous young women who wear religious habits and live in community like some of the other new groups of religious women-and like some of the older communities of religious that are attracting candidates today-that I have recently praised here on the Pastor's Page. May I share with you first the Op-Ed essay about the heroic young priest and then a xeroxed copy of the letter that I received from Mother Assumpta Long.The letter describes her order's mission and its rapid growth.
* * * * *A Chaplain's Chaplin
By Peter Duffy
As a young chaplain candidate in the U.S. Navy in the late 1980's, the Rev. Daniel L. Mode became captivated by the story of a Roman Catholic priest who was killed at age 38 while ministering to U.S. Marines in 1967. Over the next several years, Father Mode immersed himself in the life of the Rev. Vincent R. Capodanno, a Maryknoll missionary from Staten Island, N. Y, who spent 16 months traveling from battlefield to battlefield in Vietnam. What began as Father Mode's master's thesis at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD turned into a book called "The Grunt Padre," published in 2000.
Working with the organization "Catholics in the Military," Father Mode used the research in his book to initiate a "cause for canonization" application to Rome. In 2006, Father Capodanno was declared a "Servant of God," the first step in the journey to sainthood. The Vatican named Father Mode as "postulator" or promoter of the cause, and a tribunal was established to interview witnesses to Father Capodanno's life. One authenticated miracle will quality the Vietnam War chaplain for beatification; a second for sainthood. Father Mode, who is 42, does not advocate for his hero's holiness from behind a desk in a diocesan headquarters somewhere. Rather, he is following Father Capodanno's example, serving as a Navy Chaplain in a war zone. He has been on active duty for three years now, including 20 months in Afghanistan.
"I can identify with him more," Father Mode says by telephone from the USS Harry S. Truman, a Naval aircraft carrier now stationed in the Persian Gulf. "I've been in a cold, dirty, cramped Humvee for hours on end. It has brought a realism to my study of his life."
Father Mode is one of 300 active-duty Catholic chaplains in the U.S. military, responsible for tending to the 375,000 Catliolic service personnel "I need about 500 more," quips Archbishop Timothy Brogno, who leads the Archdiocese for the Military services, U.S.A.
Catholic chaplains have been part of the U.S. military since the Rev. Adam Marshall, S.J., was commissioned as a Navy officer in 1824, serving on the USS North Carolina. Although two chaplains now have been formally nominated for sainthood-along with Father Capodanno, there is the Rev. Emil J. Kapaun, who was killed in Korea in 1951-the most famous Catholic chaplains are probably two others: The Rev. Francis Duffy of "The Fighting 69th," played by Pat O'Brien in the 1940 film about World War I, and the fictional Father Mulcahy of the M*A*S*H TV series.
While the modem Catholic Church has been reluctant to support armed conflict in all but the most exceptional circumstances----"War no more, war never again!" Pope Paul VI famously cried at the United Nations in 1965-the Church has always taken seriously its duty to care for the souls of fighting men and women....
From his post on the USS Truman, Father Mode told me that few chaplains were better at relating to the average grunt in war than Father Capodanno, a thin, soft-spoken winner of the Bronze Star and the Medal of Honor. The New Yorker is remembered for his keen listening ability, his to-the-point homilies and his expressive eyes. "They were gentle eyes, hurting eyes, compassionate eyes---eyes that had seen an awful lot, eyes that would embrace you." said Eli Takesian, a Presbyterian chaplain who served alongside him.
Father Capodanno was renowned for his willingness to be among Marines in the heat of combat. "If a company was going out, he would just slip into their midst and he'd be gone before you knew it," says Tony Grimm, a captain who was assigned by his battalion commander to keep track of the priest.
On September 4, 1967, the men of M or "Mike" company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, fought a vicious battle with North Vietnamese Army regulars in the Que Son Valley, 30 miles south of Da Nang. Throughout the day, Father Capodanno administered last rites, delivered medical care and dragged injured Marines to safety- even after he was twice struck by gunfire in his hand and shoulder.
Ray Harton, who at the time of the battle had been in Vietnam for three months and who now lives in Carrollton, GA., was one of the last Marines to see Father Capodanno alive. He himself was injured in the battle, having been shot in the left arm. He recalls the peace that came over him as he heard the priest's voice: "Stay calm, Marine. Someone will be here to help, God is with all of us this day." Father Capodanno then dashed to tend to another wounded corpsman-and was fatally cut down by machine-gunfire.
Father Mode is trying hard to ensure that Father Capodanno's heroic service in Vietnam is property, recognized and remembered. His efforts, by extension, call attention to the service of many, many other chaplains, including those still ministering under fire in Afghanistan and Iraq. [One thinks admiringly of our own archdiocesan military chaplain, Father Timothy Vakoc-pronounced VAH-kuch-who suffered massive injuries from a roadside bomb in Iraq and whose partial recovery has amazed the medical staff at our local Veterans' Hospital. Please keep him in your pravers].
Letter from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eurcharist