By Father Bill Kneemiller
It’s Monday, July 26, and my unit and I have just flown out of Afghanistan to an Air Force base in Kyrgyzstan (north of Afghanistan) to await our flight back to the good old USA!
The last month in Kandahar was marked by a growing intensity in the conflict, and personal loss for the chaplain core because of the death of chaplain assistant Sgt. Christopher Stout.
Chris was a shining example of a Christian and he will be dearly missed. One of the saddest memories here is seeing his casket, and those of other young men and women being flown home with the honors of a “ramp” ceremony. That’s the chaplain ceremony honoring the fallen as they are loaded on the ramp of the aircraft.
In late June my assistant, Staff Sgt. Hoyum, and I had one more round of Masses to the village of Senjaray, about 20 miles west of Kandahar City. On the base, my host, a Baptist army chaplain, showed me the layout of Senjaray. We peered over the base camp walls to the village below us. This is the home of Mullah Omar, father of the Taliban, so it is still a hot spot, with infantry soldiers going out daily on foot patrols to the “heart of the beast.” Omar’s mosque dominates the city, and off to our right, the Hajj, or local power broker, has two large houses that look like twin Japanese temples, or pagodas.
At the patrol base, I had a few hours before Mass that night. Once again, I had arrived with no advance notice because the flights were delayed. I made a poster with the bold headline “Catholic Mass Today,” and tried to drum up some business for a “Sunday” Mass on a Tuesday evening.
Among those attending Mass that night were two soldiers and a contractor in various stages of an RCIA program, now interrupted by their deployment. One fellow, Rick, is a Southern Baptist. He told me he’s been studying several Christian denominations for the last two years in search of religious truth.
He was surprised and initially dismayed when, at every turn, “It pointed to be Catholic.” He added, “I didn’t want to be Catholic, but it kept pointing in that direction.” He chanced upon some CDs of Scott Hahn’s conversion story, “Rome Sweet Home” and found answers; now, he was coming home!
This was not an isolated case. I’ve meet many soldiers here who were strengthened in their faith by Scott Hahn’s conversion story.
My assistant and I returned to the safety of Kandahar Air Base, grateful that in our year there we did not have any direct attacks on our convoys or flights. Thank you Jesus!
Unleash the Power of the Rosary
With my final Masses here at the Kandahar Base Chapel, I had a sense of unfinished business. I knew some soldiers in the Kandahar Catholic Community had powerful experiences of faith that needed to be shared. So after Communion, I invite Master Sgt. Randy Revell from North Carolina to give a short talk on “unleashing the power of the rosary.”
Randy talked about his re-discovery of the rosary. He said, “Through God’s grace, I came to experience that the rosary is not about how many prayers are spoken, but that it is an opportunity to spend time with our Lord and be in his glorious presence!” His breakthrough with the rosary began when he started praying the Scriptural rosary, praying the rosary from the heart, and contemplating Christ’s life on each bead; he began to feel so close to Jesus with this meditation that he often attended daily Mass to receive the holy Eucharist.
As Randy talked about unleashing the power of the rosary, he listed some of the “15 promises of the rosary” that date from the time of St. Dominic, and said he was experiencing these promises coming true! What really hit me personally is when he said these 15 promises are for our time.
At my last Sunday Mass in Kandahar, I invite one more testimony from Sgt. John Garcia, who gave a similar experience he’s had with the Scriptural rosary. John and his wife were looking for a spiritual practice that could keep them united for the year that John was deployed.
So they started praying the Scriptural rosary with their children, ages 3-12. To their surprise and delight, their children began sharing their insights and experiences as they prayed together. John added: “Our children’s thoughts and feelings are so deep. They are not given enough credit for their understanding and concern.”
I believe that Catholic prayer groups can experience many more graces from the rosary. I believe that the Scriptural rosary is a key to unleash the power of the rosary and its graces that can transform peoples and nations. As I reflect on my year in southern Afghanistan, the memories merge. I recall the sad memories of ramp ceremonies of fallen soldiers, and the sure knowledge that prayer and conversion can transform and heal a troubled world.
(Fr. Kneemiller is a priest of the Diocese of Davenport who is serving as a chaplain in the Army Reserves in Afghanistan.)