Memorial blessing, Mass and meal offer lost veterans a way back to God

Bishop blesses Colorado Freedom Memorial, Knights fix lunch, deacons offer resources to vets

Roxanne King

On the morning of Sept. 28, some 200 people watched auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez bless the Colorado Freedom Memorial grounds, the glass wall listing all Coloradans killed in war, and the granite pillars holding soil from foreign cemeteries in which Colorado military are buried.

It was the first Catholic blessing of the six-year-old windswept Aurora site.

“Bless this memorial, O Lord, that it may remind those who visit it that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” Bishop Rodriguez prayed as he sprinkled holy water. “Bless these grounds and make them holy and solemn for all those who gather here.”

Organized by the deacons of the Denver Archdiocese, the blessing preceded a Mass for veterans, their families and friends, and a lunch provided by the Knights of Columbus. Prior to the blessing and during the Mass, the Air Force Academy Catholic Cadet Choir sang patriotic songs and hymns. Rick Crandall, KEZW-AM morning show host and founder of the memorial, served as emcee.

Open to all veterans and named after the U.S. motto, the “In God We Trust” event sought especially to offer outreach to those who may have fallen away from their faith as a result of war-induced trauma. Professionals from Mount Tabor Catholic Counseling were available for attendees to talk to and a priest was on hand to hear confessions. Deacons were available for spiritual counsel.

“It is our deepest desire that when you leave here today you feel this Mass has brought you closer to the Lord,” Crandall told the assembly.

An Air Force Color Guard advances during a Mass and event for military veterans at the Colorado Freedom Memorial on September 28, 2019, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Held the day before the feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the Scripture readings were from the votive Mass for them as St. Michael is the patron of military members. In his homily, Bishop Rodriguez explained the Hebrew meaning of the archangels’ names, noting that they point to each angel’s special attributes.

“Michael means … ‘who is like God.’ He is also known as the prince of the heavenly host,” Bishop Rodriguez said, adding that the Book of Revelation speaks of Michael and his angels casting Lucifer and his minions from heaven.

The battle against evil can take soldiers into war to defend people from oppression and terrorism, but an interior fight against the devil also takes place in all our souls, the bishop said.

“We invoke St. Michael to help us in our fight against Satan,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “The angels of the Lord are with us, to protect us and to guide us in this battle. Michael and his angels battle against the dragon.”
Gabriel, he said, means “God is my strength.”

“He appears in Scripture three times as a messenger. He is the one who announces when the Lord entrusts you with a special mission,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “The presence of the Archangel Gabriel indicates you are sent to the mission with the strength that comes from God.”

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez blesses the Colorado Freedom Memorial during a Mass on September 28, 2019, in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Raphael means, “God heals,” the prelate said. The Book of Tobit describes Raphael serving as a companion, protector and healer.

“He is invoked in critical moments in life … when there are wounds and people need healing. This happens constantly in war and it happens in our spiritual war against the enemy,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “God is always close to us with his healing power. Even when wounded, we can say ‘in God we trust,’ because he has promised us his healing power.”

To do battle and to need strength and healing are everyday realities for military members, the bishop said.

“God and his angels were with you,” the bishop said addressing the veterans. “As he is with us today and will be always.”

Before the final blessing of the Mass, Bishop Rodriguez told the gathering that the liturgy and the memorial blessing had given him a new insight.

“The Eucharist is God giving us his Son in the sacrifice for our salvation. But also in the Eucharist are our own sacrifices, which we unite with Jesus’ for the salvation,” he said. “When I was saying the words of the consecration, This is my body given up for you, what came to mind was the names of our brothers [listed on the memorial wall] …and [again when saying] This is my blood poured out for you. … That gave a new sense to my Eucharist. May the Lord Jesus bless their souls.”

At the end of the liturgy, a bugler played Taps.
Former U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Stan Keller, a parishioner at Risen Christ Church and an eight-year veteran, attended the Mass and luncheon with his wife Katerina.

“We came to honor all those who laid down their lives,” he told the Denver Catholic. “It’s very nice to be thanked for our service, but I was just doing my job.”

Katerina described the liturgy in one word: “Gorgeous.”

Deacon Jim Doyle, who served as an air evac medic during the Vietnam War, helped his daughter find his father’s name on the memorial wall. His father, Jim Doyle Sr., was an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. He died at Aachen, Germany just before the Battle of the Bulge. He is buried in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.

“This is like going to the Vietnam Wall,” Deacon Doyle said, tearing up. “This is pretty emotional.”

In brief remarks before the Mass, retired Air Force Sgt. Bill Lancaster encouraged the veterans to return to God if they’ve fallen away from him, trusting that like the biblical Prodigal Son, God will welcome them back with open arms.

“God has never let you go,” he said. “He has remained beside you and is always calling you back. God loves you more than you can know.”

COMING UP: Q&A: How the Office of Child and Youth Protection helps keep kids safe

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Protecting kids should be one of the highest priorities of all youth-serving institutions and organizations. In 2002, following the breakout of a terrible scandal within the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened to create the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, more commonly known as the Dallas Charter. To learn more about the Dallas Charter, check out this post.

One of the fruits of the Dallas Charter was the requirement that all dioceses in the U.S. create an office specifically for keeping kids safe. In the Archdiocese of Denver, we have the Office of Child and Youth Protection, which has been a key part of our diocese since shortly after the Dallas Charter was implemented. Headed by Christi Sullivan, who has a background in certified child protection training and has worked in the office for eight years, the Office of Child and Youth Protection has trained over 70,000 adults to recognize and report child abuse since 2002, and trains 20,000 to 25,000 kids on how to keep themselves safe each year.

We sat down with Christi to get a better idea of what she and her office do to make sure that the Church is among the safest places possible for children and youth.

Denver Catholic: What is the function of the Office of Child and Youth Protection?

Christi Sullivan: We train adults, children and adolescents to recognize and report possible abuse and neglect. We train between four and five thousand adults every year. In 2003, the first round of adult classes trained approximately 20,000 people. Since then, we have trained 4,000-5,000 adults every year.

Additionally, we train all the facilitators that provide safe environment training for the adults. I have roughly 250 facilitators in the diocese. We supply the curriculum that’s been promulgated by our archbishop and we also train parish staff and administer and maintain a database of 80,000 adults that have been trained since 2003. We also provide support and guidance for the 160+ entities and organizations in the diocese that work diligently to ensure they are safe environment compliant. We are available if they have questions or concerns about curriculum, reporting, background screening, the Code of Conduct or any concern regarding child safety.

DC: What is the process like if somebody has an allegation of abuse?

CS: If somebody has a suspicion of abuse or neglect with a child, at-risk-adult or elder, obviously they contact the authorities immediately. If the person is in imminent danger, they call 911. If it’s not an imminent danger situation, then they need to call 844-CO-4-KIDS for children or the county adult protective services office.

DC: How does your office intervene and assist?

CS: If they’re talking to me, it’s probably potentially a concern with somebody either who’s an employee or volunteer within the archdiocese. So, once the report to the authorities is made, we ask the report is made to us. Then we would follow up, when appropriate, when the authorities have finished their investigation and then we follow through with an investigation and take appropriate action, up to and including termination.
Also, Jim Langley is our victim assistance coordinator. If there’s anybody that just needs to speak to any kind of abuse or neglect situation, he’s available. St. Raphael’s Counseling through Catholic Charities is also available to help people.

DC: What is the process for somebody who wants to be safe environment trained?

CS: Anybody can go to a safe environment training anywhere in the archdiocese — they don’t have to be Catholic. And those are listed on my website, ArchDen.org/child-protection under “Find a Class”. I think right now we have about 20 classes in the next 30 days.

DC: Tell me about the curriculum you use.

CS: We’re going to soon have a new curriculum that’s more updated and current. The curriculum we have now is not irrelevant, the information is still incredibly relevant — Pedophiles have not changed their modus operandi. But the new curriculum is going to expand on that and include things like Internet safety, bullying, suicide awareness and other safety areas of concern for families, parents, mentors and ministries. It will also provide training for reporting at-risk-adult and elder abuse and neglect.

DC: Is this curriculum required in public schools?

CS: Safe environment training is not required in public schools in Colorado. Curriculum is available to public schools and has been for about three years now, but to my knowledge, the only school district that’s picked it up is Adams 12. Aurora public schools just started training teachers this year with their own custom curriculum, but they are not including parents and kids yet as they are still developing curricula for those groups.

DC: So this has been a norm in the Catholic Church and Catholic schools for 17 years.
CS: Yes.

DC: And for all of the other schools in the state, it’s not even required.

CS: No it is not. In 2015, Colorado introduced SB 15-020, a version of what is commonly known as Erin’s Law. The full version of the law was not passed as introduced, which would have required safe environment training for students, teachers and parents. After committee hearings, the final version of the law allowed for a new position of a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Specialist at the Colorado School Safety Resource Center and a reference booklet listing available curricula has been published, but the version of the law that passed does not require school districts and charter schools to include safe environment curriculum.

To learn more about the Office of Child and Youth Protection and attend a Safe Environment Training, visit archden.org/child-protection.