At the invitation of General Ray Odierno, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services arrived in Al Asad Iraq earlier this month to spend Holy Week and Easter with the military and civilian personnel stationed there.
After touring the base, Catholic Mass was celebrated mid-morning at Al Asad's Memorial Chapel and followed by lunch at the base dining facility. In order to travel through the country, Archbishop Broglio wore a ballistic vest and toured in a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle.
Speaking to civilian and military personnel, Archbishop Broglio said "One of the difficulties of being archbishop of an archdiocese over which the sun never sets is that it is very difficult to come into contact with all the members of the faithful, so every opportunity I have to visit you is very precious."
His is a diocese without geographic boundaries. He is responsible for the pastoral care of 375,000 military personnel, 900,000 family members, and 300,000 Coast Guard and reserve personnel stationed overseas, within the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii.
Thirty-five military archdioceses exist in countries around the world. Nine of those were established by the great Pope John Paul II, including the Archdiocese for Military Services USA in 1985. Ordained an archbishop in March of 2001 by Pope John Paul II, Broglio was later appointed to lead the AMS in November 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI. He brings 32 years of diplomatic service to his global ministry and speaks four languages fluently.
"I want to say a word of thanks for the opportunity to visit you today and learn a bit more of what goes on in this part of the world," he said to those who welcomed him at Al Asad. "I appreciate the contribution you're making to the future of this country, and it is certainly a pleasure to visit you."
Even as a gifted linguist, the Archbishop admits to wrestling with military acronyms and lingo. During a tour mid February 2009 to Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, he admitted "the toughest challenges are the terminology and how different each of the five branches are. My responsibility to the people foremost is pastoral, how they are attended to as Catholics, but learning the military culture is constant."
Spending time in Iraq has been a consideration of his for some time. In addition to security issues, there was also the concern that troops would be pulled away "from someplace where, frankly, I think they might be more necessary." Now it seems appropriate the Archbishop for Military Services has arrived in Iraq during Holy Week to stay and minister to the troops there through Easter.
During a second afternoon Mass, Archbishop Broglio acknowledged to those service members and civilians deployed to Iraq: "You all know about sacrifice. It is something precious to put your lives on the line, and that's an irreplaceable gift."
Lt. Cmdr. William Payne, a Methodist chaplain, commented on the significance of the Archbishops pastoral visit. "It is very important for service members to feel connected to their church and their faith. The archbishop embodies the church, and is a visible way by which many sense the presence of God."
"His visit was well received and our Marines and sailors were ecstatic to see and meet the archbishop," remarked Navy LT Ulysses Ubalde, a Catholic chaplain serving with Regimental Combat Team 8. "I was personally blessed and grateful to see our archbishop visiting us here in Iraq because this shows me how much he really cares for and loves our men and women in uniform."
Printed with permission from Catholicmil.org.