As a chaplain at the new veterans’ hospital in Aurora, Father Jose Mena spends his days serving those who served our country.
“Many veterans are an age that is very difficult, many of them have broken relationships and they need someone, so we need to be involved with the veterans,” Father Mena told the Denver Catholic about his ministry.
The new $1.7 billion Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center opened in July to provide physical care for our nation’s veterans. Father Mena is one of about eight chaplains from various religions available to offer spiritual care.
“They (veterans) often have feelings of worthlessness, they think that nobody cares about them, that they are not important to anyone,” said Father Mena. “But there is hope for everyone in Jesus.”
Father Mena begins his day by visiting patients who are in pre-op (about to have surgery), continues with visits to patients in palliative care and the ICU, celebrates daily Mass at noon in the chapel, has spiritual direction meetings with VA staff members, and spends the rest of the day visiting more patients and their families.
“The best way to be successful as Catholics is to help others,” said Father Mena. “And the way that we need to demonstrate our love is to do it for the most needed.”
A Priest and a Doctor
Jose Leonidas Mena-Juarez was born in Miami to a Cuban mother (his father had been killed in Cuba), but grew up in Nicaragua with his mother, step-father and five brothers. Mena would enter the seminary and be ordained in 1992, but he also studied medicine to help provide care for the people of the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
“My country is Communist, and we have a lot of Communists that hate the Church,” said Father Mena. “Most of the time they were against us, so I tried to be the bridge.”
During his life, Father Mena has seen wars, hurricanes and even volcanos wreak havoc on his country, so he said he always worked to maintain a good relationship with the government and military to make sure donated relief supplies would be properly distributed to the poor.
The best way to be successful as Catholics is to help others.”
“I never condemn them,” Father Mena said about his interactions with Communist officials. “I kept my opinion to myself so that way I could have access to all of the poor.”
Father Mena tells stories of being hurt and jailed by the Communist government but said he would still care for the families of the Communist military.
“They don’t want to come to our institutions because they are not Catholic, so they would come to me and I immediately go to their house and whatever is needed I provide it to them.”
Chaplain in Colorado
Father Mena moved to the United States in 2016, at first joining his brothers in Alaska where he would learn English. With the approval of his diocese in Nicaragua, Father Mena joined the Archdiocese of Military Services and was assigned to the new VA hospital in Colorado this past summer, where he continues to serve those that need it the most.
“This is my mission,” said Father Mena. “Whatever we can do to build the kingdom of God in the name of Jesus, I will do.”
Father Mena says he visits with about 40 veterans a day, from World War II, Vietnam and the more recent conflicts in the Middle East.
“They never forget about their situation when they were in war,” said Father Jose Mena. “If they have hurt a human being that they are aware of, they will never forget about it.”
As a chaplain and a priest, Father Mena can help them seek forgiveness.
This is my mission.”
“Even if they are not Catholic, I just go through the Bible and show them: God is merciful, God is forgiving,” said Father Mena. “It doesn’t belong to you anymore, it has been forgiven by God. It was a mistake, but it is in the past and it is forgiven. Try to start a new life.”
But for veterans with serous injuries, that new life can sometimes seem bleak, so Father Mena says he encourages them that God still has a plan for their future.
“God is in you, and you are still alive, and God needs you alive,” Father Mena explained. “So let’s find out what He needs you for!”
Father Jose Mena would like to ask all Catholics to pray for our veterans. He also invites Catholics to come to Mass at the VA chapel (12 p.m. Monday – Friday; 1 p.m. Saturday/Sunday), or to volunteer to visit veterans with him. You can reach Father Mena at 720-723-6702 or Jose.Mena@va.gov