By Leslie Ann Ryan-Brosterhous
“Lest we forget” starts a prayer to veterans, who we honor on Veteran’s Day, November 11. On this day, parishes across the Diocese pray for military veterans and thank God for the bravery and service they provide to us all.
Non-veterans may wonder about how one can practice their Catholic faith in the course of military service.
Monsignor Tom Burdick, Pastor of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Winchester, recalls a time when his military training and God joined forces to solve a problem. Msgr. Burdick is a U.S. Navy veteran who has had deployments around the world.
“When I was in Grenada, back in the Bush administration, there was a revolution with the Cubans,” Msgr. Burdick recalls. “I had a very close friend there, a young foreign diplomat. It was just such a dangerous place back then.”
Msgr. Burdick reveals that this friend was assassinated. “I knew I needed to do something to help. That’s one of the most important lessons you learn in the military - be alert and on call 24/7.”
Due to the trauma he felt from losing his friend, Msgr. Burdick needed guidance. He sought out the bible for help. “I always go back to the Gospel of John where it says, ‘laying down your life for your friends’ and Jesus sacrificing his life for our sins - so much help there.”
Local parishes will have special observances this Veteran’s Day including Masses, rosaries, prayers, and memorials.
In Menifee, at St. Vincent Ferrer, there is a Military Reflection Room near the vestibule. A single kneeler in the center of the room is surrounded by flags of every branch of service. The walls are adorned with two large scrolls: one for loved ones currently serving with their pictures and the other for fallen heroes listing names numbering 7,028. Statues, a large cross, and a special portrait of veterans with prayers are placed among the flowers and stained-glass windows.
Sharon Fullilove, a parishioner at St. Vincent, created the Military Reflection Room in October 2001 and still manages it today. “I could never have done it all without +Father Tony [Das Neves],” referencing the late former pastor of St. Vincent’s.
“When I saw the empty room, I got the idea for the military and asked Fr. Tony ‘can I have this room?’ - and he said, ‘yes right away!’” Fullilove exclaimed.
Fullilove expressed the importance of honoring our troops for the sacrifices they have made, saying, “We must never forget (them).”
St. Vincent Parish will also have a Veteran’s Day Mass on November 11, as well as six baskets of scrolls around the altar. The scrolls will contain names of more than 640 veterans, living and deceased, that are connected to the parish.
Father Theodore Drennan, V.F., Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Riverside, is a 30-year United States Marin Corps. veteran who blends his military training and faith on a daily basis. Fr. Drennan celebrates Mass every month at March Air Reserve Base, and ministers to veterans in hospitals and nursing homes.
“I consider it a great privilege to journey through our faith together, it is an honor,” he said.
St. Thomas the Apostle Church will display flags, celebrate a special Mass, and pray the Rosary on Veteran’s Day.
Enrique Villegas, a parishioner at St. Vincent Ferrer, is a 31-year U.S. Marine Corps. veteran who, with his wife, Teresa, have a house filled with 10 children and two foster children.
He recalls a time in his service when other families were stricken with grief where he was able to use his Catholic faith to bring healing and hope.
“When I was in Iraq, I had two buddies that were overcome with grief - just missing their families,” Villegas said.
“Grief can be overpowering. So, I started taking them to Mass,” Villegas remembered. “It helped them so much, they started the [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] program and went on to receive the Sacraments,” Villegas said.
Leslie Ann Brosterhous is a freelance writer from St. Vincent Ferrer, Menifee.