By Fort Jackson Leader special reportMarch 27, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (March 27, 2014) -- A unique program teams up Catholic and Protestant volunteers on Fort Jackson to create prayer packets for Catholic Soldiers in Basic Combat Training.
The packets contain a rosary, a small crucifix and a variety of prayer cards pertaining to Soldiers facing battle, military and personal challenges. The volunteers get together once a month to compile the packets and hand them out every Sunday during Mass. Approximately 7,000 prayer packets are distributed annually.
It is an impossible task for a small group of volunteers to hand make this quantity of rosaries, said Toni Costello, the coordinator for the group.
"Rosary makers from all over the U.S. make and mail rosaries for our Soldiers," Costello said. "Their response is overwhelming. With one letter submitted to a national rosary maker's newsletter, we have received over 6,000 rosaries in a year."
Costello said that when Soldiers are given the packet they are told to keep them next to their meals ready to eat for their spiritual nourishment.
Recently, a Soldier who was here for Basic Combat Training returned to Fort Jackson and told Costello that he had seen a Catholic chaplain only twice during his tour in Afghanistan, she said. She said he told her that he used his prayer packet every Sunday. Costello also recounted a letter from parents of a graduating Soldier expressing their appreciation for the spiritual support their son received. Responses like these energize the volunteers to continue this mission, Costello said.
Chaplain (Maj.) Isaac Opara said he asks Soliders at the end of every Mass to say their first rosary for the volunteers who make them.
"I am grateful that we have volunteers from Catholic and Protestant churches at Fort Jackson and the local community to support this important and rewarding mission," Opara said.
Many of the volunteers have been making rosaries for Soldiers for 10 years or longer. Toni Kerr started the group 25 years ago and recently passed away.
"It is a labor of love," Kerr said before her death. "Giving one Soldier spiritual comfort or strength is a mission worthwhile."
The Mass for Basic Combat Training Soldiers takes place every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. at the Solomon Center. Parishioners and visitors are invited to attend.