French priest still thankful for D-Day

Says he won’t forget sacrifice of America’s troops

The French don’t forget.

Even 70 years after that heroic day June 6, 1944, when American troops liberated France from invading Nazis, the French at home and abroad remember the freedom it afforded them.

It’s a time in history Father Franck “Nathanael” Pujos of St. Catherine of Siena Church will always remember.

As a young boy, Father Nathanael Pujos recalled an emotional visit with his grandmother to an American cemetery in Normandy after World War II. He saw the fallen soldiers as heroes and imitated their fight against the Nazis using an American flag draped over his shoulders.“As a Frenchman and as a priest, I’m really aware of what we owe this young generation of soldiers who died for us French to be free,” said Father Pujos, 44, who is a parochial vicar and chaplain at St. Catherine School.

Without his freedom, he may not have become a priest, he said.

“I’m a priest today … because I was raised in a free country, not occupied by the Nazis, nor by the Russian communists after World War II like half of Europe,” Father Pujos said.

As a young boy growing up in Paris, his family instilled in him a deep respect and appreciation for the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers who died that day.

During the Normandy invasion, called D-Day, some 156,000 allied troops launched the largest seaborne invasion in history against the German-occupied northern France and into Western Europe.

Causalities reached an estimated 12,000 that day along the 50-mile stretch of the Normandy beach. The victory contributed to the allied forces’ eventual victory over Nazi Germany.

His grandparents and parents, Jerome and Sylvie Pujos, always spoke to him about it. When he was young, his grandmother took him to the American cemetery in Normandy to pay their respect for the soldiers.

“I have a deep memory of the cemetery with all these thousands of tombs,” he said. “Each time I think about this cemetery, I get emotional because it’s striking.”

He recalls seeing row after row of white crosses marking the graves of young Americans.

“The field of crosses were perfectly taken care of and maintained,” he said. “As you got closer to the tombs, you would see the age of the soldiers. They were kids—18 or 21 years old.

“I will never forget about it,” Father Pujos said.

It made an impression on the young man when his parents would utter the word “American” with admiration and love.

“Americans are heroes in my family,” he said.

When playing as a boy, he would imitate the American soldiers. Thinking of their heroic battle, he would pretend to be a soldier and drape an American flag over his shoulders.

He grew up and joined the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes to become a missionary priest.

Father Pujos was later sent to the United States and has ministered here for eight years.

Every year around Memorial Day and close to D-Day, he preaches in his homilies about the need to remember the young soldiers who died for freedom, honor and Christian values.

“It was very emotional for me to preach on Memorial Day in an American parish,” he said, adding that he’ll sometimes reach up and touch the American flag hanging near the altar.

He wants to remind Americans that while it may seem that the world hates them, many Frenchmen won’t forget the day they won them freedom.

“I would like people to know in my family and for a lot of French, the Americans meant the world. It means everything,” Father Pujos said. “I think Americans need to hear it again and again.”

Operation Overlord: June 6, 1944

Begins the march to defeat Hitler
160,000 Allied troops
5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft
Largest seaborne invasion in history
50-mile stretch along the Normandy coast
Some 9,000 Allied casualties and deaths
Allies liberate Paris Aug. 25, 1944
Nazi Germany surrenders May 8, 1945

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash