Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 3, 2014 (CNA) - A year ago, Father Lukasz Willenberg could never have imagined that this year, despite racing under a most unique set of conditions in one of the most inhospitable areas of the world, he would manage to top his finishing time in last year’s Boston Marathon.
Instead of a bright, sunny morning with a light breeze blowing in off the ocean, Father Luke, and more than 500 runners representing all branches of the Armed Forces taking part in this year’s officially sanctioned Boston Marathon Afghanistan, set off on their quest for victory at 3 a.m., under the cloak of darkness — necessary to maintain operational security in a region where Americans and their military partners are prone to attack at any time.
“I think I have God on my side,” Father Luke joked Monday in a telephone interview from Afghanistan, of his finishing time of 2 hours, 44 minutes and 59 seconds, which is about 11 minutes faster than his finish last year in Boston.
As they circled the sprawling Bagram Airfield northeast of the capital, Kabul, about 100 miles from the Pakistan border, the runners also had to contend with the challenges brought on by the location’s 5,000-foot elevation, where the air is thinner than at sea level, and filled with the dust stirred up by winds coming down out of the snow-capped mountains, which surround the base in a bowl.
Father Luke finished second in the marathon, behind Josh Peterson, a civilian working for the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. The first three runners received the actual medals and trophies presented to finishers at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
“The timing of the race was the most difficult part for me. The 3 a.m. start time really messes with your sleep cycle, so you have to decide whether you want to stay awake, or try to catch some sleep before the race,” said Peterson, who is from Plymouth, Minn., in a phone interview Monday.
Peterson, who has run in the Boston Marathon once, in 2006, as well as in a storied race in Greece in 2012, in which runners replicated the route of the first marathon, running from Marathon to Athens, enjoys running because it provides him with a few hours of escape from the realities of life in a war-torn country.
A year ago, Father Luke, 32, a native of Poland who was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Providence in 2008, ran the Boston Marathon, finishing the venerable race with a very strong time of 2 hours, 55 minutes and 55 seconds.
But for the now military chaplain, pushing himself to the limits is exactly what he signed up for — literally.
A veteran runner, who has competed in Ironman and triathlon events, Father Luke ran the race so quickly last year that he even had time to drive back home to St. Luke Parish in Barrington, where he had served as an assistant pastor since his ordination, to rest a bit before celebrating a confirmation that evening. It was then, as he stretched out on the sofa in the rectory that he heard the horrible news that a pair of explosions had torn through the finish line area killing three and wounding and disfiguring more than 250 others.
He anxiously telephoned other racers who were friends of his to make sure they were all right.
Days later, after a pair of brothers with ties to the Chechnya region of Russia were accused of the crime, as well as the subsequent killing of an MIT policeman, with one brother killed and the other apprehended following an extensive manhunt, Boston began a long healing process.
At that time, Father Luke began to think about the next race.
His strong 2013 finish had qualified him to run in the 2014 race, but this presented a problem for him, as he was planning to enter the U.S. Army in the next few months, where he would serve a four-year tour of duty as a military chaplain.
In January, Father Luke, now a captain assigned to the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, began a one-year deployment with his unit to Afghanistan, where he is based at Bagram Airfield. He also travels around the embattled Southwest Asia country by land and helicopter whenever there is a need for his ministry.
Inspired by the courageous “Boston Strong” stories of those whose lives changed forever on Patriot’s Day 2013, Father Luke aspired to make his base an official extension of the Boston Marathon.
“I had an idea to bring the Boston Marathon to Afghanistan,” he said, noting how he first approached the base commanding general, Major General Stephen J. Townsend, with his idea.
Major General Townsend green-lighted Father Luke’s idea, and the chaplain petitioned the Boston Athletic Association for permission to host a Boston Marathon outside of the Bay State.
The organization granted only one entity — the Combined Joint Task Force-10 and Regional Command-East, based at Bagram Airfield — permission to host such a marathon.
The race was advertised strictly through word of mouth, again to maintain operational security. It took only a few days for more than 600 soldiers and civilians serving all over Afghanistan to sign up to take part in the marathon, which was held last Friday, instead of jointly on the same day of the Boston Marathon.
“As we run the first Boston Marathon since last year’s bombings, we “Run as One” with the people of Boston. Like the U.S. Army’s slogan, “Army Strong,” the people of Boston have shown they are tough, they are resilient; they have shown the world they are “Boston Strong!” Major General Townsend said in a statement issued Friday to the runners of the Bagram Shadow Marathon and the people of Boston.
Father Luke, who apparently had enough energy left in his tank after completing the 26.2-mile event Friday to do some pushups at the finish line, to the delight of the crowd that gathered at sunrise, said he is comfortable in his new role with the military, although there is still much to learn.
“So far, everything is going really well; everything is new to me,” he said. “I’m still learning how to be a chaplain and how I fit in.”
On a day-to-day basis, his ministry entails “lots of counseling,” including suicide prevention and resiliency trainings to help soldiers cope with their missions and prepare for their eventual return to civilian life, as well as hearing confessions and offering Masses. While celebrating the Easter Vigil Mass at the base, he baptized nine soldiers into the Catholic Faith.
“It was a very powerful and moving moment for them and me. It was a great journey leading them to this moment,” Father Luke said.
He said his ministry both challenges and humbles him every day, as he does his part to make the world a better place.
But his assignment is not without risk.
“Every so often, we get powerful reminders that we are still at war. You get hit with rockets and shot at while you fly.”
Living and working under such conditions is another reason why offering those in harm’s way even a slice of the life they left behind in the States through activities such as the Boston Marathon Afghanistan is so very important.
Dr. David King, a 1991 graduate of Mount Saint Charles Academy who went on to become a trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army, rushed to save the lives of victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings barely an hour after running the race himself.
He said that by bringing the marathon directly to the troops in Afghanistan, Father Luke has done something very special that is of great value to the military community across that country.
“The Boston Marathon is an iconic event. The ability to bring this to those who are deployed is profoundly meaningful downrange,” Dr. King said of the impact the race would have on the morale of the troops.
Posted with permission from The Rhode Island Catholic, official publication of the Diocese of Providence.
Philadelphia, Pa., May 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a recent interview with an Italian daily, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia discussed his memories of St. John Paul II, with whom he worked as a bishop from 1988 to 2005.
“I have vivid memories of my ad limina visits with John Paul II … especially the first one in 1988. John Paul was extraordinarily kind,” Archbishop Chaput told La Stampa in an interview published April 30.
“He joked gently with me and the other bishops of my region that I was much too young to be a bishop, although we both knew that I was actually five years older than he was when he was raised to the episcopacy.”
At the time, Archbishop Chaput was 43, and had just been made Bishop of Rapid City, S.D.; the Pope, in turn, had been consecrated as an auxiliary of the Krakow archdiocese in 1958 when he was 38 years old.
St. John Paul II was “keenly interested and engaged in talking about the life of the Church in the United States,” Archbishop Chaput said. “I had four ad limina visits with John Paul II, and each one was a privileged moment, not simply because he was pope, but because of the humanity and goodness he brought to his ministry.”
“No one who met him can ever forget him.”
John Paul II was canonized April 27, and Archbishop Chaput reflected that he had achieved so much during his pontificate “that we tend to forget the scope of his impact.”
Noting that while most remember his international travels, the archbishop recounted a litany of the saint’s other accomplishments: prolific writing; building relations with Jews, Orthodox, and Protestants; renewal of Catholic identity; support of new ecclesial movements; profound and wide-ranging teachings; and a commitment to the dignity of the human person.
In 1993, while still Bishop of Rapid City, Chaput attended Denver’s World Youth Day with St. John Paul II.
“I remember his astonishing dynamism and humor in Denver. The crowds were huge, but they didn't tire him. They did the opposite – they gave him energy, and young people seemed to make him younger by their presence. Young people knew, instinctively, that John Paul loved them, and they responded to him enthusiastically.”
Four years later, John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Denver, where he served until 2011.
According to Archbishop Chaput, “What John Paul proved is that young people thrive on being loved and challenged in an encouraging way. Even as an old man struggling with illness, young people flocked to him. The young are hungry for a sense of meaning, a mission that they can accomplish with their lives.”
“John Paul II imprinted a spirit of hope on their hearts, which is why he was so effective at changing and ennobling young lives.”
Scottsdale, Ariz., May 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
After the resignation of a Silicon Valley CEO following an uproar over his defense of marriage, two firms are providing free legal analysis to anyone suffering at work for opposing a redefinition of marriage.
Brendan Eich resigned as head of Mozilla Corporation April 3. He had been appointed one week earlier, and quickly came under criticism from advocates of same-sex “marriage” because of his $1,000 donation to California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that recognized marriage in the state as the union of one man and one woman.
Citing an inability to be an effective leader under the circumstances, Eich chose to resign. He had written that “I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status or religion.”
Alliance Defending Freedom and the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund announced May 1 they would offer free legal analysis for anyone who has lost their employment or suffered job-related consequences because of their support for protecting marriage.
“People who exercise their First Amendment freedoms should not be bullied into silence and forced out of their livelihood,” commented Joseph Infranco, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.
“We will consider representing Californians or citizens in other states who have suffered job consequences for their support of marriage through the most American of activities: participating in the political process – a legal activity that is not disruptive to the mission of the employer.”
Charles LiMandri, president of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, added that “California employers should not give in to a handful of intolerant activists who would seek to blacklist their fellow Americans for doing nothing more than exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to support various causes.”
“No employer should be allowed to ignore their employees’ First Amendment freedoms or their employees’ freedoms under state law.”
Vatican City, May 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis’ new advisory commission on the protection of minors is expanding its membership to include representatives from around the world to improve sex abuse prevention and to better care for victims.
The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors recently held discussions “focused on the commission's nature and purpose and on expanding the membership to include people from other geographical areas and other areas of expertise,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M. said in a statement on behalf of the commission at a May 3 press conference at the Holy See Press Office.
Cardinal O’Malley is one of eight members chosen by Pope Francis to serve on the commission, which was established March 22. The group met this past week to discuss the scope of its work. Thus far, no official statutes have been established.
The commission said its conversations included “many proposals for ways in which the commission might collaborate with experts from different areas related to safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.”
The cardinal explained that the group hopes to include “more victim-survivors” of sexual abuse, as well as “at least one person from every continent.”
Global representation is particularly important, he explained, “because in some people’s minds, (they say) ‘oh this is an American problem,’ (or) ‘this is an Irish problem.’ No: this is a human problem and the Church needs to face it everywhere in the world.”
The Archbishop of Boston said that some people have told him “that there are still many people who don’t see this as a problem of the Universal Church.”
Thus, many of the commission’s recommendations will likely focus on education, “because there is so much ignorance around this topic, so much denial.”
Although the commission is still in its infancy, the commission statement said, “in time, we will propose initiatives to encourage local responsibility around the world and the mutual sharing of ‘best practices’ for the protection of all minors, including programs for training, education, formation and responses to abuse.”
The group “will not deal with individual cases of abuse” but will act as a general advisory body to Pope Francis.
However, the commission does plan “to make specific proposals regarding the tragic consequences of sexual abuse and of the devastating consequences of not listening, not reporting suspicion of abuse, and failing to support victims/survivors and their families.”
The commission meetings this week include an address from Dr. Domenico Giani, commander of the Vatican gendarmerie.
Cardinal O’Malley said that the current eight-member commission wanted to become aware of child protection legislation and programs in the Vatican City State. He added “we feel that it is important for the Vatican City to model the importance and priority of child protection.”
“As the Catholic people make our parishes, schools, and institutions safe for all children, we join with people of good will in our endeavor to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are protected from abuse,” he said. “We request the prayers of all who wish to support the work of the commission.”
Rome, Italy, May 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a meeting with nearly 7,000 members of the Italian lay movement Catholic Action, Pope Francis spoke of the need for parishes to be open and outgoing.
“It’s a matter of opening the doors and allowing Jesus to be able to go outside. Many times we have Jesus closed inside the parish with us, and we don’t go outside and we don’t let him go out!” said the Pope on May 3. “Open the doors because He goes, at least He does! It’s a matter of an ‘outgoing’ Church: a Church always going out.”
Pope Francis encouraged the many Catholic Action members gathered in Rome’s Paul VI Audience Hall to continue their work of evangelization in the parishes, “especially those marked by tiredness and closure--and there are many.”
Local church communities should instead be marked by a welcoming spirit, he noted.
“When I greet the parish secretaries, I ask them: ‘but are you the secretaries that open the door or those who close the door?’ These parishes need your apostolic enthusiasm, your full availability, and your creative service,” he continued.
Pope Francis then reflected on three verbs that indicated the style of evangelization necessary to Catholic Action: to remain, to go, and to rejoice.
All faithful Catholics are called to be “heralds and witnesses of Christ” and must remain close to Jesus.
It is in the “encounter with the One who is our life and our joy, that our testimony acquires new meaning and new strength every day,” said the Pope.
But it is not enough to remain static in one’s faith, stressed the Pope. “Never stop: go forward!” he exclaimed. “Go along the streets of your cities and of your countries, and announce that God is Father and that Jesus Christ has made himself known to you, and through this, your lives have changed.”
“Finally, rejoice. Rejoice and exult in the Lord always! Be people who sing life, sing faith!”
Pope Francis noted that the practicing of ‘singing the faith’ dates back to St. Augustine who lived 1,600 years ago. “Speak the faith, live the faith with joy, and this is called ‘singing the faith.’”
The pontiff also warned against the temptation to “quietude” which “has nothing to do with remaining in Jesus” but rather is a “temptation to closure” or “a life too similar to a museum statue.”
Rather, he encouraged those present to have a living and joyful faith which readily responds to the needs of others.
“Let us ask the Lord, for all us, eyes that can see beyond appearances, ears that can hear cries, whispers, and even silence; hands that know how to support, embrace and heal. Let us ask above all for a wide and merciful heart that desires the good and the salvation of all.”
Finally, he concluded by asking the intercession of the Virgin Mary, “who always follows Jesus, accompanying him until the very end.”