A Gift to the Soldiers- Chaplain Brings Mass to the Frontlines
December 20, 2009
- Remote forward operating bases off Worship opportunities
- Chaplain Unit Ministry Teams travel across Afghanistan to visit Soldiers in remote locations
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WOLVERINE, Afghanistan - Lit solely by headlamps, an illuminated fog rolls with every breath the chaplain speaks. Nearly midnight with Christmas approaching, a small group of deployed service members sit on the cold rocks of the helicopter landing pad huddled in a circle to hold a Catholic Mass.
"Mass can be held anytime, anywhere," said Capt. Carl Subler, a Catholic chaplain with the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "For Catholics, receiving Holy Communion is essential to their faith. Celebrating Mass in the field for the soldiers gives them a chance to do that, when otherwise they would go months without the sacraments."
While awaiting transportation these service members with the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, were unable to attend scheduled church services, so Subler held an impromptu Mass while he was waiting with them.
Chaplain Subler, a native of Versailles, Ohio, travels to many forward operating bases and smaller combat outposts in southern Afghanistan. He has a combat Mass kit he brings with him. It includes everything he would use at a civilian church, just smaller: a chalice for wine, a crucifix, a paten for the Eucharist, small cruets for water, Scripture readings for the day, and the vestments a priest wears.
As one of only two Catholic chaplains in Regional Command South, Subler doesn\'t normally hold Mass' like this. "Oddly, that was my second impromptu Mass that evening. Earlier I found more Soldiers who had not been able to make it to the scheduled Mass, we just set up and had the Mass in a trailer," said Subler.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez, a combat photographer with the 4th Combat Camera assigned to document the Soldiers, was one of the service members participating in the later Mass. Instead of taking pictures of the Mass, he felt compelled to join them, and share with them the spiritually fulfilling opportunity to practice their faith.
"That was my first Mass since I've been here in Afghanistan. So I wanted to make sure I took part in it," said Lopez, a Phoenix resident.
He and several others waiting for the helicopter out of the desolate terrain at this outpost embraced their faith when they were given this chance.
"It gives them strength to believe that they can hold on. They are going to be here for so long that it's hard to believe, 'Am I going to make it without dying'' . . . especially after you see death around you. It makes you appreciate more what you have to do to make it home safe to your family," he said.
Between the dangers of combat and the limited availability of Mass to Soldiers in the field, the chaplain bringing Mass to us was an answered prayer, said Lopez.
"I think it was unique, because there are very few situations where you're actually going to have mass outside in a warzone. It reminded me of the saying, 'For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.' I had forgotten God for a while . . . but he didn't forget me," said Lopez.
And neither did Subler.
"I feel bad when I arrive at a place that I have not been for a while and a Soldier might say, 'Hey father, we thought you forgot us out here!' . . . We haven't forgotten of course," said Subler.