Skip to comments.Catholic Navy chaplain shares story of Iraqi conversion (from 12/04/07)
Posted on 12/18/2008 11:56:39 PM PST by STARWISE
Recently, CNA had the opportunity to send a writer to the Anbar Province of Iraq to cover the experiences of a Catholic chaplain working in the trenches.
What follows is his recounting of the amazing encounter he had with this apostle in the desert.
Father Bautista: Apostle in the Desert Joe Burns, War Stringer
A few weeks ago, I returned to the U.S. after spending a week with Army troops in Iraq.
More specifically, I spent six and a half days with my sons outfit, the 63rd Ordnance Company stationed at Al Taqaddum.
Al Taqaddum is a former Iraqi airbase, nicknamed TQ, and lies about 50 miles west of Baghdad in the Anbar Province near Ramadi.
My son Mike and I spent the first three days in Baghdad while I was processed for my press pass and then waited for a helicopter to become available to take us to TQ.
Al Taqaddum is covered in dust. In some areas where vehicles had repeatedly driven, the earth was ground down to a fine powder several inches deep (I was tempted to look for Neil Armstrongs footprints!). The dust in this part of Iraq is so prevalent that it hangs in the air at all times of the day and night, clinging to clothing, nostrils and eyes.
On the second day at Al Taqaddum, I was privileged to attend Mass said by Fr. Jose A. Bautista-Rojas, a Navy chaplain who ministers to the Marines and soldiers at TQ and in the Ramadi area. It was a hot, dry, windy and desolate day.
In the 30 minutes prior to Mass, Fr. Bautista discussed recent events of the day with the three of us: my son Mike, his commander Captain Tom Heilman, and myself.
The setting for our conversation was a makeshift wooden chapel, sparsely furnished with the plastic chairs we sat on and a small white table for an altar.
Being inside this simple chapel was like finding an oasis in the desert. What made this oasis most refreshing was the time we spent with Fr. Bautista, a man of irrepressible good humor, joy and generosity.
The events of that morning for Fr. Bautista included a Mass he had just conducted in Ramadi at a Marine detachment.
What made the Mass unique, was that his congregation consisted of one lonely Catholic Marine. When Father Bautista arrived in Ramadi along with his personal bodyguard, a strong young, well-armed Marine, he visited a detachment of eight men, only one of whom was Catholic. Undeterred, he told the Marine he would be happy to say Mass for him.
The young Marine confided to him, You know Father, back in the States, I didnt go to Mass that often, but out here I find myself longing to go to Mass again. But Ive been here for seven months and youre the first Catholic chaplain Ive seen.
Fr. Bautista spent some time listening to his story and asking questions about his family. Then he said Mass for this single Marine, in the presence of countless angels and saints who rejoiced with them.
As Fr. Bautista continued speaking with us, he described the fascinating story of a young Muslim woman who was entering the Church under his guidance through the RCIA process.
Her story was moving.
While working with Americans, this woman, who must remain anonymous, was touched deeply when she realized that the U.S. medical personnel not only treated wounded Americans and Iraqi civilians, but also treated wounded enemy combatants, including one who was known for having killed U.S. Marines. As she put it, This cannot happen with us.
This dramatic extension of mercy even to enemy soldiers caused her to take the next cautious step. She asked Father Bautista to tell me more about Jesus.
As Father described Jesus and his life in the Gospels, one thing stood out among the rest for the Muslim woman he called Fatima (not her real name) and that was how kindly Jesus had related to, as she put it, the two Marys.
Fatima was moved to see how Jesus deeply loved Mary, his mother, who was sinless, but also how Jesus deeply loved Mary Magdalene, who was a great sinner. As these discussions continued, Fatima reached a point where she said to Father Bautista, I want to become a Christian.
Since Father Bautista sees himself as a chaplain for all troops, not just Catholics, he decided to introduce Fatima to other chaplains from Protestant and Orthodox backgrounds.
After some time had passed, Fatima returned to Father Bautista and said, I want to become a Catholic like you. When Father asked her the reason for her decision, she said, You were the only one who told me about the other Christians, so you left me free to decide for myself. Thats how I knew this was the right decision.
As their catechetical lessons developed over time, Fatimas family discovered her plan and was warned sternly by her father that if she continued on this path, she would be disowned by the entire family and would never have contact with them again.
At this point, Father Bautista became concerned for Fatimas well-being and cautioned her to look carefully at the consequences of her decision and to think seriously before continuing her path into the Church.
Fatima paused for a moment and then looking intently at Father Bautista asked, Do you give up so easily on Jesus?
The question took Father aback for a moment, but then he thought, This is incredible; this Muslim woman is already bearing witness to me about how important my own faith is!
As he related it, this womans question had caused him to give greater thanks for his faith and for the great privilege of sharing Christ with others. Fatima is currently continuing the RCIA process with great courage and joy.
In a wonderful irony, the first words she will hear spoken during the Liturgy of the Word in the Rite of Acceptance will be those spoken to her great ancestor, Abraham: Leave your country (and your kindred and your fathers house), and come into the land I will show you (Gen 12:1).
After sharing this moving testimony, Father Bautista excused himself to prepare to celebrate Mass for us. Moments later, as he led us in the prayers of Mass, I was struck by how blessed I was to be present in this moment, in the ancient dusty land of Abraham, who so willingly offered his only son to God.
Now, together with Abraham and his son, Isaac, with all the angels and saints, with our own brave son and his commander, we returned to this same land and heard these magnificent words:
Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as you once accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, the bread and wine offered by your servant Melchisedech
Here, in the same treeless, windy, dusty desert from which God had called Abraham, Christ had returned. Now, through the hands of his servant priest, Father Bautista, a perfect offering was made to fulfill the offering attempted by Abraham.
And through this same priest, the Good News that was foretold to Abraham now returned to his homeland to bear witness to a courageous Muslim woman; a woman who was willing to sacrifice everything to know this Jesus who forgives even his enemies and who loves even the sinful Mary.
How blessed we are to be able to worship freely. Dear Lord, let me not ever take that privilege for granted.
God bless and protect Fr. Bautista .. I pray this woman has strengthened in her faith and found a safe harbor. God be with them all and our awesome military who protect them.
Written by Fr. Jose Bautista-Rojas, LT, CHC, USN Monday, 31 December 2007
Thank you Lord for my priesthood!
01Jan08: What am I, a priest, doing in Iraq? God brought me here to be with my Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers. I am here to bring God to them and to bring them to God. Every day is a different story.
The other day, a young Marine arrived to SSTP (Shock, Surgical and Trauma Platoon) hospital. He was so young and at the age where he was just starting to experience life. He had lost his legs from the waist down; he had a very low pulse. There was something special about his young man that made him different from every other one that arrived at the SSTP hospital up to that date.
I knew him personally. He attended Mass twice a month while the other days he went on missions. It is different when you know someone personally. I still remember his face; he would ask for a blessing after each Mass. He would tell me: "Bless me, Father, I need your blessing."
These are the last words that I heard from him a week ago. His words till resounded over and over in my head, "Bless me, Father." I will not give his real name out of respect for the family.
I could not control my right hand while holding Jose's, praying to God for him; my hand was shaking. In my mind, I was asking God to save Jose. I was thinking of his parents, of his brothers, of his friends, but especially of his mother. Lord, do not shatter Jose's mother's heart. Save him, Lord! Bring him back to his mother alive.
I was looking around the operating room. The doctors were speaking to Jose telling him, "Fight, do not give up, please fight!" Jose's commanding officer was at a corner of the room with tears in his eyes, looking at me as if he were asking, "Please tell God to save him!"
He then would turn to the doctors as saying, "Fight for him please save him, save my Marine!" Another officer entered the room, looked carefully to the doctors and then turned to me asking me with the gesture of his hands to pray. Then, he turned to Jose's officer and greeted him as if giving his condolences.
Please Lord, save him! I prayed with all my strength while the doctors tried frantically to save his life.
"He has no more pulse!" one doctor shouted, while a female doctor with her hands inside Jose's chest caressed his heart trying to revive him. After 45 minutes of massaging the heart and electrical shocks, the doctor declared him dead.
In my mind, I was praying Lord, do not allow Jose's mother to receive him without life. Looking at Jose on the stretcher, I only saw half of his body.
How would his life be if he would have survived without legs and only part of his hands? I wonder if God instead of answering my prayer answered Jose's prayer. Maybe Jose was telling God, please take me with you, do not leave me here this way. I do not know; the only thing I know is that Jose will not suffer anymore.
I still hear Jose's voice when he would tell me, "Bless me, Father... Please, Father, bless me... I always tell my mom that you bless me, and she gets very happy..... My mother told me to thank you for your blessing." What will go through Jose's mother's mind? Will she be angry at God? Will she hate the Marine Corps that her son loved so much?
I wish I could tell her: "Senora, I was with your son on his last moments." My hope is that she will find some comfort in the knowledge that her son had a priest by his side in his last moments.
Jose's officer asked for my name to tell his mother that I prayed for Jose, and that he received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.
I would love to look at her eyes, and let her know that I was with her son on her behalf. I would like to embrace her, and tell her that her son asked for my blessing every time he could come to Mass.
I thank God for the gift of my priesthood and to my Cardinal who allowed me to come and serve as a chaplain.
I am a priest not only to celebrate Holy Mass, but also to live it. The gift of my priesthood allows me to bless and bring peace to my muchachos and muchachas, that's the way I see them as my young kids, in the midst of this war.
Please, ask God that I may never get tired of blessing those who ask and wherever they ask me. Jose would ask me to bless him in the Chapel, or while I was walking to my "Humvee" (my transportation), which would bring me to my base or where ever he would see me.
"Father would you bless me?" Who will be the next priest to hear these words?
Will our young men and women in the military services have priests to come to and ask for a blessing, or to come for confession, or will they have the opportunity to attend Mass?
I pray that young men and women in the military will get the spiritual guidance they need. The only way this will be possible is if more men respond to God's call to the priesthood. When the Lord asks, "Whom shall I send?" many will say "Here I am, Lord!"
Fr. Jose Bautista-Rojas, LT, CHC, USN is currently serving as a US military chaplain in Iraq. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1999, and has previously served at various parishes including St. Elizabeth Church in Van Nuys, CA.
~~God bless the chaplains ..PING!
I am moved to tears by the faith I take for granted and the cost that is paid that I may practice my faith. Prayers to ‘Fatima’ and ‘Jose’.
I know Jose! He’s a good man and great chaplain.
Wonderful ... I’m sure he blesses many
lives with his faith and devotion to
During the 30 day war in Lebanon in 2006, the Lebanese Catholics opened their villages and homes to fleeing Muslims who were trying to escape the bombings in the south. Like the Muslim woman in the story, they were also amazed at kindness and generosity of these villagers who built shelters for them, and provided medical assistance. As a result, many Muslims joined the christians for daily prayer and were converted. In one small village, there were 65 conversions last year alone.
Please pray that our Lord will open the hearts of other Muslims.
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