Ten years ago my son, Tim, was in the U.S. military, serving in Iraq. Like any parent, I was concerned—not just about his physical safety, but also his spiritual well-being. We would e-mail back and forth, and our exchange often went something like this:
“Tim, were you able to get to Mass?”
“No, we didn’t have a chaplain.”
“How is it looking for next week?”
“Not good. I’m in a new Forward Operating Base now. The Catholic chaplain was here two months ago and isn’t scheduled to be here for another month. By then, I’ll be gone to another place.”
It wasn’t that the Catholic chaplains were sitting around doing nothing! There just weren’t enough of them to go around. And so, at a critical moment in their young lives, Tim and thousands of service men and women like him were not receiving the help they needed to stay close to the Lord in their difficult circumstances.
The Word Among Us Partners Ministry to the Military was launched in response to these urgent needs. Today, as the outreach begins its tenth year, we feel very humbled that so many supporters are working alongside those dedicated chaplains by supplying free copies of The Word Among Us to some four hundred military locations. To me, this is a work of the Holy Spirit that recalls St. Paul’s words about the process of evangelization: one person plants, another waters, but God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Those Who Plant. The Catholic chaplains who were stretched so thin ten years ago? Well, their numbers have dwindled from 400 to fewer than 250. Under extremely difficult circumstances and over huge distances, they are heroically doing what they can to serve 1.8 million Catholics worldwide. Yet despite the stresses, this is the most cheerful, least complaining group of people I’ve ever met. They love God, work hard, and love serving their people.
I think of one priest who was working in California but happened to be in Washington, D.C., on September 11. After ministering to survivors and responders at the Pentagon site, he felt the Lord calling him to become a military chaplain. It wasn’t the most logical idea: this priest was overage and overweight. Determined, he got his superior’s permission, persuaded authorities to overlook his age, dropped fifty pounds, and survived boot camp.
He and I stayed in touch during his tours of duty in Iraq, and I was always impressed by his enthusiasm, courage, and commitment. Often, he thanked me for the magazine. He saw it as a practical spiritual aid that he could leave with each soldier after his pastoral visits, which were necessarily short and infrequent. And it was valued, he told me: “Whenever I helicopter into a Forward Operating Base, the first question I am asked is: ‘Father, did you bring The Word Among Us?’” What a privilege to help chaplains like this as they plant the seed of God’s word!
Other Workers Water. Partners supporters are not in the field in the same way as chaplains and their assistants—they “irrigate” from afar through their prayers and financial support.
In fact, it was some of you, our readers, who petitioned us to launch Partners Military! Having experienced The Word Among Us as a help for growing in your own life of prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments, you asked us to reach out to your children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, and friends serving in the military. Without your ongoing help, this effort could not have been attempted or sustained.
It’s inspiring to be working on the home front with men and women who are so dedicated to helping others know and love Jesus. I think of the woman who called our office to express her support for Partners and to apologize because all she could give was an occasional five dollars. Turns out that the only way she could collect that “widow’s mite” was by painstakingly collecting soda cans and returning them for the refund. What a priceless contribution!
God Gives the Growth. In many ways, this branch of Partners is a youth ministry. Service men and women are mostly young and come from varied backgrounds: cities, farms, multigenerational families of soldiers, and families of new citizens. They include college graduates and high school dropouts; young mothers and fathers; people who faithfully work at routine, even boring, assignments out of harm’s way; and others who are in command or who courageously risk their lives every day.
As one chaplain’s assistant remarked, “These young people are the future of our Church and our country.” I’m moved at the opportunity God is giving us to help these men and women know his love and receive his life. Many are searching and will respond to Jesus, if only someone shows the way.
At one military recruiting center, for example, God is giving extraordinary growth through the efforts of a dynamic chaplain and his volunteers. Mass attendance has skyrocketed, and record numbers of recruits are being baptized and confirmed. And to follow up, everyone is given The Word Among Us and urged to use it in developing a habit of daily prayer. These young men and women are touched to learn that the magazine comes as a gift from Catholic brothers and sisters who care about them without knowing them personally, says one of the chaplain’s volunteers. “For many who come from dysfunctional families, this is truly a blessing. It makes them feel part of a real parish family with a wide reach.”
A military wife stationed in Asia wrote to say, “This magazine can comfort men and women who are far from home.” Most of the men and women on her base were there alone, without their families, she said. “Some are struggling to keep their marriages alive while they are thousands of miles from home—the distance takes its toll.” Reading The Word Among Us has recharged her faith and kindled a love of Scripture, she said, and she has begun passing out copies to others. “I pray that God will move them to read it. . . . And I want to say thank you and let you know that your work has been fruitful in my life.”
Bryan Keilty directs The Word Among Us Partners ministry to service men and women.
Help Spread the Word
My grandson said The Word Among Us saved his life in Iraq.” The comment came from a woman who had never heard of the magazine and called our customer-service department to find out what it was all about.
While we don’t know the details of her grandson’s story, we do know that on every military base and ship, in every veterans’ hospital and theater of war, there are service men and women longing for God’s presence, strength, and comfort. Thanks to generous readers like you, many of them are able to receive The Word Among Us and other materials that help them connect with God.
Working with military and prison chaplains, we are reaching 26,500 service men and women and 61,000 inmates in the United States and Canada. Through crisis-pregnancy centers and Project Rachel postabortion ministries, some 6,500 women are receiving hope for a new life. And our newest ministry aims to bring the magazine to 10,000 college students every month.
So many are waiting! Will you help us reach them? Please pray for these ministries and become a Partner. You can make a tax-deductible donation online at waupartners.org, by calling 1-800-775-9673, or by mailing a check to:
In the U.S.
The Word Among Us Partners
7115 Guilford Drive, Suite 100
Frederick, MD 21704
Attn: The Word Among Us Partners
Box 1107, Station F
Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2T8
(Canadian donations are tax deductible only if sent to this address.)