St. Cecilia is first in archdiocese to start ministry for vets
By Deacon Alan Christy
Special to The Witness
AMES — In early 2015, my wife, Mary, and I received an invitation to attend a seminar in Des Moines given by the president and the executive director of Military Outreach USA. The purpose of the seminar was to outline the need for a national network of churches to help our veterans. Currently veterans are committing suicide at a rate of more than 20 per day. In fact, more veterans have died by suicide since 9/11 than all the combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The most logical way to develop a network capable of helping all the veterans was to look to local churches, since almost every city and village across the United States has at least one. Upon our return I asked our pastor, Father Jim Secora of Saint Cecilia Catholic Church in Ames, if we would be amenable to becoming a Military Caring Church. And so we began.
After forming a core team of veterans and their spouses, we began our Military Caring Ministry. We met once a month the first year to study and discuss a series of webinars produced by Military Outreach USA. We learned about the many effects of injuries suffered by our veterans. Traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, moral injury, veteran homelessness and veteran suicide were a few of the topics of study. Most of the men on the team are Vietnam veterans, so we understand first hand that nobody goes to war and returns home the same. Many of us suffer in varying degrees from the effects of both visible and invisible wounds. About the same time, core team members Howard and Lois Lehmkuhl started a Military Caring Coffee on the first Saturday of the month. Many healing conversations take place as we sit around the table and discover that our most personal experiences of war are shared by other vets.
Our team presented a panel discussion to our local “ManUp” men’s group about our war experiences, hosted a speaker at Saint Cecilia from the local Vet Center, flew to Washington, D.C., to visit our national war monuments on the Story County Freedom Flight, attended a veterans retreat at the American Martyrs Retreat Center, participated in the local “Veterans Supermarket” and just recently toured the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown led by Deacon Tom Renze, to name a few of our activities. I personally experienced healing in the process, and I am sure that others did as well.
For more information on Military Outreach USA, please visit their website at http://militaryoutreachusa.org/ and consider if your parish should become a Military Caring Church. There is no cost or obligation. The healing of many veterans depends upon how much we care. It may literally be a matter of life and death for them.
Deacon Christy serves at St. Cecilia Parish in Ames.
The photo above was taken at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. The group is part of the Military Caring Ministry at Saint Cecilia Parish in Ames. (Contributed photo)