Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Message To Archdiocese of Boston Brothers & Sisters In The Military, Their Families And Our Military Chaplains…………Also This Week: Tributes To & Reflections On Those Serving Our Country By Fr. Rich Erikson & Others

A message to our Archdiocese of Boston brothers and sisters in the military, your families and the chaplains, priests and religious who serve those in the military.

As Thanksgiving and the Christmas Season is upon us, I have given much thought to, and have prayed for, our brothers and sisters from the Archdiocese of Boston now serving in the military, overseas and in the United States, their families and to the many priests and religious who serve as military chaplains and serve to attend to the spiritual and religious needs of those in the armed forces.

I encourage everyone in the Archdiocese to be mindful of your circumstances and service and to pray for you each and every day, not just when we read the news online, pick up a newspaper or watch television.

To our brothers and sisters serving in the military:

While our country navigates its way through the murky waters of war and international conflict in the name of freedom and peace, we thank you and pray for you each and every day, especially during this time of year when so many of you are away from home and separated from your families.

The heavy burden of ensuring, maintaining and fostering peace and freedom falls on your shoulders here on earth. That indeed is a heavy burden. Your service is often heroic. Throughout the history of our country, we have witnessed the sacrifices of the men and women who protect and serve our nation to ensure that we may enjoy the privilege of freedom, including the religious freedom that brings us hope, strength and personal peace in our lives. We are grateful for your many sacrifices.

We are mindful of those who have given their lives and for those who continue to serve our country so valiantly. We also pray for the many servicemen and servicewomen who have returned home from distant lands after suffering physical or psychological harm. Our chaplains have told me that our present conflict has resulted in a very high number of amputees. May God grant you courage and strength.

Though you may be far from home and even serving in dangerous circumstances, please know that we are with you in mind and spirit. Each Sunday when I visit parishes throughout the Archdiocese I hear petitions for your safety in the Prayers of the Faithful. Know that everyone at home is praying for your speedy and safe return and an end to the conflict.

To the families of those who are serving in the military:

I can only imagine the feelings of anxiety and stress that you feel while your loved ones are serving our country. It must be particularly difficult for you during the Holidays. Your sacrifice has been immeasurable. We hope that you may take comfort in knowing that our thoughts and prayers are with you, as is our immense gratitude.

Many of our brothers and sisters, your sons, daughters, husbands and wives, have made the ultimate sacrifice on earth and have given their lives while serving our country. To those who have lost a loved one, please know our prayers are with you. Your tears are our tears. Your loss is our loss. While it is never easy to lose someone close to you, we pray that you will find comfort in your faith and in Jesus Christ. As the mass prayers remind us, Life is changed, not ended.

To military chaplains and priests and religious who serve to attend to the spiritual and religious needs of our brothers and sisters in the military:

We are grateful for your tireless efforts and good work. Thank you for your vocation. In addition, you make the Sacraments present to our soldiers in their greatest moment of need. The kindness, comfort, counsel and support that you provide to those in the military, regardless of their faith or religion, and to their families, is invaluable.

In Boston we are proud of the tradition of our local Church in sending chaplains to the armed forces. We pray that those who are serving now remain strong, for our troops depend on your unique vocation. You and your families have also made great sacrifices, for which we are grateful. We hope that you and your families may also find comfort in our thoughts and prayers, especially during the Holiday Season. Thank you for all that you do.

May God watch over all of our military servicemen and servicewomen from the Archdiocese of Boston, your families, and our military chaplains. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we thank God for you.

I remain devotedly yours in Christ.

Cardinal Sen


Fr. Michael Medas, Catholic chaplain at Hanscom Air Force Base, at a recent dinner at the base.


Fr. Rich Erikson celebrating Mass for troops in Iraq.

As many of you may know, Fr. Richard Erikson, our Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese, returned to Boston to assume his current leadership role here after serving as Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force. Fr. Erikson has an insightful perspective on the wonderful dedication of our military chaplains and our brothers and sisters serving in the armed forces.

This from Fr. Erikson:

Back in Iraq – On Veterans’ Day, I joined with veterans from throughout the world in praying for our deployed troops and their families, and in reflecting on my time on active duty with the Air Force. This is the first Veterans’ Day on which I have not been on active duty since 1998. I found myself thinking especially about my service in Iraq in 2004. I have many friends who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today. I remember them daily in prayer.

Veterans who have served our country most recently are often assisted in their remembrances by technology such as e-mails, digital pictures and videos. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I wrote on my first week in Iraq:

Good afternoon from Iraq,

I arrived here on Sunday after an unexpected layover in Qatar. I concelebrated Mass at Qatar on Sunday with Father Rowan. He was a great host for an unexpected guest!

I have hit the ground running since arriving at Balad Air Base. Father Decker left to be with his mother about 3-4 weeks ago. Thank God he was able to be with her during her last days before passing to the Lord. The people here love him and they have been longing for a priest. One of the first things I did was to enhance our daily Mass schedule from 3 days a week to 6 days a week. I am celebrating Mass at different times on different days to give people on various shifts the opportunity to come.

One of my main ministries is at the medical tent. Yesterday was my first day there. The medical staff and our injured troops are inspirational! The young men and women who are transported here from the field, often with serious injuries, are strong and brave. The first soldier I met was suffering from multiple wounds, yet he was concerned about the staff and other patients. ‘Is she alright?’ ‘Father, maybe you should go get something to eat.’

When I met him, I told him we prayed and ministered to everyone, but did he have a religious preference? He said he was Catholic. I said ‘I am a Catholic priest’ and, with a smile on his face, he said ‘Sweet!’ I anointed him, stayed with him and counseled/ consoled him until he was transported. He said, ‘Never has a priest cared so much for me.’ I tell you this, not to say anything about what I did, but to affirm what you already know and dedicate yourselves to: our troops need priests and the sacraments desperately. I feel privileged and honored to serve the Lord and our troops here.

The greatest prayer needs here are for those who are in harm’s way, for our injured and killed heroes, and for troops and their families suffering from separation. I told the airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines who were injured, and whose families did not know yet, that I had people praying for them as well…that they were surrounded by prayer. Thank you for your prayers.

Even though I wrote this message two years ago, the need for priests, sacraments and prayers remains in all war-torn areas of our world. Currently about a dozen Boston priests are serving our military community throughout the world. Some of our Boston priests are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I repeat what I wrote in my first e-mail from Iraq, thank you for your prayers for our troops. Today I also ask, remember our chaplains in your prayers when you lift our troops up to the Lord.


Fr. Rich Erikson

Fr. Erikson brought this photo back from Iraq. Here, Chaplain, Major General Charles C. Baldwin, US Air Force Chief of Chaplains, comforts a wounded soldier in a medical tent located in the “tent city” where Fr. Erikson was based.


This is the chapel where Fr. Erikson celebrated Mass for our troops in Iraq. It’s called the “Tuskegee Chapel,” located in tent city.


Another view of Tuskegee Chapel.

Thank you to Fr. Erikson for sharing his reflections and pictures here.

Each year the Military Ordinary for Chaplains invites the Bishops attending the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for a dinner. Last week at our meetings in Baltimore, we had the opportunity to gather..its a way for us to honor the chaplains and its an opportunity for them to appeal to the Bishops to send more chaplains.

Among the various branches of the military, there is a terrible shortage of priests. There always has been, but I think its more acute now. We have about a dozen men from Boston serving in the military. Its one of the very important contributions of the Archdiocese has made to the American Church.


At the US Conference of Catholic Bishops meetings last week in Baltimore, each branch of the military were represented. It was an opportunity to appeal to the Bishops to send more chaplains.


Air Force Chaplain Service Logo displayed at the Bishops meetings.

A few weeks back on my blog, I introduced many of you to Sister Olga Yaqob, M.V.M. As you may recall, Sr. Olga is a diocesan hermit, who is originally from Iraq, and is now doing wonderful work as a Campus Minister at Boston University. Her long spiritual odyssey has brought her to the United States and Boston.

She is a very inspiring religious woman and recently she addressed young businesspeople of Boston for the Christ Speaks In the City lecture series. I asked Sr. Olga to share some her own reflections about her lifes journey to date, especially today in this post as we pray for and pay tribute to our servicemen and servicewomen of the Archdiocese of Boston currently in Iraq and stationed all over the world.


Sister Olga Yaqob, M.V.M.

From Sister Olga:

It is an honor and a blessing to be asked to share my simple reflection about the joy of my service to God’s people in Iraq and America.

In this message Id like to share with you some of the thoughts that I shared last week to young Catholics in Boston about my relationships with American people and some of the American soldiers that I met in Iraq in Summer of 2003.

Growing up in Iraq, my only information about Americans came through state-controlled television. Growing up, my generation in Iraq had two public channels, and they were controlled by the government. All that I knew about America was through those two channels. Print media was very limited. So my understanding of Western culture in general – and particularly about Americans – was very, very limited. I always say, ‘God brought me to Boston . . . to make me fall in love with America.’

Coming here changed my perspective about American people, about Western culture. It wasn’t coincidence that I came to Boston, Massachusetts. If I were in Detroit or Chicago or cities in California where they have a lot of Iraqi people, I wouldn’t have gotten to know Americans from inside. But God sent me here, so I had to live with American sisters, to study with American students, to communicate 100% with American people around me in all the aspects of my life. God put compassionate people in my way.

When the war happened I received tons of e-mails, messages and phone calls from American people I met here in Boston two years before, just making sure that I am okay…just to make me feel that I have a home here. I have a family here. Especially the first two months of the war, when there was absolutely no communication at all with Iraq – I didn’t even know if my sisters were alive – so many people here were even more than a family for me. During school breaks, the kids here at Boston University would say, ‘Can we take you home? We don’t want you to be alone.’ They all knew that I don’t have a family here. But even students didn’t want me to be alone.

So it’s just such a beautiful feeling to see that which you don’t see on the TV or the news, you know what I mean? It is my prayer and hope to build bridges between Middle Easterners and Americans. I try to put the Iraqi human face on the perspective of what people think of Iraq by being in the United States as an Iraqi person. At the same time, I try to put that American face when I talk or write to my people in Iraq about America.

God has put it in my heart to do this mission. I’m very proud of myself that I’m an Iraqi person. I do love my country…At the same time through the love that the Lord has put in my heart for Americans I have found my home here too. Whenever I write official letters for promoting peace between our nations and our countries, I cannot say anymore, ‘My country. Your country.’ I always say, ‘Our countries. Our nations.’

In my visit to my homeland after the war I spent many hours talking with American soldiers. They were happy not because I spoke English, but because I was living and studying in their country. They were also happy because I am a nun and they often asked me to pray with them and to pray for them. In the eyes of these young men and women I also saw fear and doubt. I saw their desires to return to their homeland, to be with their families, to enjoy their normal lives, and I saw the fear and uncertainty which they were struggling with, the fear of not knowing where they will be sent next, of not knowing if each day will be their last, the fear of the Iraqis around them, not knowing if they are friends or enemy.

I was also impressed by the devotion I encountered in these young men and women. Often they would show me the religious medals they were wearing, or their scapulars, or the rosaries they carried with them. On several occasions they asked to take pictures with me, to show to their relatives back home. In particular, one who has an uncle who was a priest, and another who has an aunt that was a nun.

Through sharing my heart’s love, given by God with my people (in Iraq and America) I proclaim the love and peace that is planted deep in me through the power of His amazing forgiveness. Yes, some may say that this is only a dream, but my beloved St. Therese has taught me that God does not fill our hearts with dreams without offering promises to achieve them.

This day of peace may not be seen during my lifetime, but I believe fervently that the day will come, because my faith rests with the Lord of promises, who is the same God of yesterday, today and forever. I know that whatever He promises He will accomplish, and I trust it will be done in His time. Forgiveness is truth in faith, so one day the light of peace and love will shine from the source of this forgiveness despite the desperate darkness in this world.

All the days that I spent in my homeland passed in this way, the time went quickly, and before I knew it the day had come to say my farewells. These hours were perhaps the most bitter of all. I felt sad that all that I had offered my people was only a drop in the enormous bucket of their needs. It was a difficult task for me to turn back, and depart from my homeland once again. I prayed often, asking for God’s advice and wisdom. Asking Him to show me where He was calling me, whether to stay in Iraq and serve with His people there, or to return to America to serve the needs of His people there. It was finally time to say farewell, tears streamed from the eyes of all I embraced, and they all were asking when I would return.

I left Baghdad knowing that my soul is sown there. With each plant in the rocks of the north, mixed as a small drop in the Tigris and Euphrates. At the borders I looked back again at my country, saying in my heart, “In your hands Lord I place my people and my land.”

Before crossing the border into Jordan two American soldiers asked me to pray for them. They were happy that I was returning to Boston. One of them said to me, “Please sister, pray for us and ask all of your brothers and sisters in Boston to pray for us, so that we may return to our families and our country soon.”

I assured them of my prayers and said farewell to them. I told them I would pray that all this insane conflict would come to an end, so that by the grace of God all His people will enjoy His gift of peace.

Sr. Olga of the Eucharist

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless” – Blessed Mother Teresa.


Posing with Sr. Olga recently at a campus ministry gathering at Boston University.

Last week, I met with Fr. Marc Bishop here in Brighton. Fr. Marc recently returned from duty in Iraq, where he was serving as a military chaplain. We are proud of his service and the service and work of all of our chaplains. During our meeting, Fr. Marc shared with me a story about our servicemen and servicewomen that was an example of some of the good that has come out of a very terrible situation in Iraq.

From Fr. Marc Bishop:

My name is Fr. Marc Bishop. I was ordained in 2001. I am originally from Billerica. My only assignment so far in the Archdiocese has been at St. Mary in Chelmsford that was my first assignment. I was there for four and a half years and while I was there, I joined the Navy Reserve. I became a Chaplain and was assigned to First Battalion, 25th Marines that has its main home training center at Fort Devens in Ayer, Ma.

Id like to share a story with you about the caring and heroic nature of the men and women who serve in the military and the good that they doespecially in a time when we hear so many awful reports from the conflict.

Last December the battalion was called up and later in January, I was brought on active duty and left St. Mary. I joined the battalion in California for all their training and in late March we went to Iraq.

While in Iraq, one of groups, a weapons company, was a mobile assault platoon that would drive all around the city. One day, they were hit by an IAD. After there is such a strike, there would be a search all around that area of the city. One of the searches was along several of the houses on the same street. As they entered one of the houses, the locals presented them with a baby, baby Mariam.

Baby Mariam had horrible birth defects; basically her insides were on the outside. So the guys took pictures of her and brought the pictures back to the command and to the Medical Officer of the battalion, Captain Donovan. So at that time we were trying to figure out what we could possibly do to help this innocent child, who was in desperate need of intense medical attention.

We looked at all the possible medical care places in Iraq and found that there wasnt a place there that could do that work. The only place where she could conceivably be helped would be in the U.S. or Europe. So we engaged a group called Project Hope.

Project Hope work with Doctors locally here and across the United States. Mass General Hospital for Children heard about Baby Mariam and volunteered do help this child and perform the surgery. It was challenging getting everything in place from visas to passports and so on to get Baby Mariam and her family over here to the U.S. Her grandparents came to Boston with her. Through the great efforts of many people, they were finally able to bring the baby and her grandparents to Boston so that she could undergo the surgery and receive the care necessary to keep her alive.

There was also another unfortunate event that transpired, which only served to spur on the effort to help this baby girl. The person, who took the original pictures of the baby on the day she was discovered, was killed in an IAD blast. He was a hospital corpsman named Doc Walsh. Because he was central to genesis of the effort, everyone was even more inspired to help this little girl.

After all the efforts by so many, the little girl underwent the surgery and is doing now great. We offer it all up to the Blessed Mother and Her intercession.


With Fr. Marc Bishop last week in our offices.

I am grateful to Fr. Erikson, Sr. Olga and Fr. Bishop for sharing their reflections and perspectives here in this post towards paying tribute and giving thanks to our Archdiocese of Boston men and women in the military, their families and our chaplains.

Picture of the Week…taken recently at a military base here in the Archdiocese:


I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

Until my post next week.

God Bless,

Cardinal Sen