Category Archives: War and Peace

Don’t forget our vets

Bishop F. Richard Spencer delivers the Veterans Day homily at St. Paul in Ellicott City, Nov. 11. (CR/Kathleen Lange)

Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the Archdiocese for U.S. Military Services issued a powerful reminder at today’s Veterans Day Mass in Ellicott City that we must never forget the men and women who served our country so valiantly throughout our history. You can read about the special Mass here.

Below is audio of the homily in its entirety.


VIDEO REPORT: Archbishop O’Brien remembers 9/11

(CR photo illustration/April Hornbeck)

When terrorists attacked the United States 10 years ago this September, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien was in Washington with 60 military chaplains.

The archbishop, then the head of the Archdiocese for U.S. Military Services, witnessed calls pour in from military commanders looking for their chaplains to minister to those in need. It was a sign of the indispensable role military chaplains play in providing support in times of crisis – offering a comforting presence, celebrating the sacraments and praying for the dead.

In this week’s Catholic Review, Archbishop O’Brien looks back to 9/11 and reflects on how the nation changed after the terrorist attacks. You can read the story here. For more stories on how lives were impacted by the events of 9/11, click here. Below is the interview with Archbishop O’Brien on which the story is based.


Pastor gets caught in tall tale

The Rev. Jim Moats, pastor of Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newvilleand, Pa., told his local newspaper a stirring story about his service as a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War. An expert swimmer, he said he had been asked to sign up for one of the underwater demolition teams. He endured brutal physical training to become a SEAL – even undergoing waterboarding. The story was accompanied by a Stephen Colbertesque photo of the now 59-year-old former SEAL clutching a waving American flag.

There’s just one problem. None of it was true. While he did serve in the Navy, Rev. Moats was never a SEAL and he never stepped foot in Vietnam. After the Patriot-News published his account, the newspaper began receiving e-mails questioning the story’s authenticity. Rev. Moats recently came clean and admitted that he made it all up.

Rev. Jim Moats (Sean Simmers, Patriot-News Photo)

The Navy awards the gold Trident medal to those who have completed SEALs training and have earned the right to be called a SEAL.

The same gold Trident can be bought at a military surplus store, and that’s where the Rev. Jim Moats of Newville got his.

Moats was never a Navy SEAL — even though that’s what he told The Patriot-News on Friday, and that’s what Moats has allowed his congregation at Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville to believe for five years.

Moats came to the newspaper office and acknowledged in an interview Sunday that he never was offered SEALS training in the Navy and that he never was accepted into the program, let alone completed it. 

“I never was in a class, I never served as an actual SEAL. It was my dream. … I don’t even know if I would have met the qualifications. I never knew what the qualifications were,” Moats said.

Several people emailed PennLive about Moats’ claim after the story was posted online.

Don Shipley, a retired SEAL who lives in Chesapeake, Va., said he is one of a few former SEALs who are entrusted by the Navy with maintaining the database containing the names of all SEALS. The database cannot be accessed by the public.

Moats was never a SEAL and never had set foot in Vietnam, Shipley said. The information can be verified through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, he said.

Shipley called Moats on Saturday night to confront him about the issue.

“We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up,” Shipley said.

There’s more here, including a video confession.


Biden’s rosary

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. (White House photo)

The New York Times is reporting that as U.S. military forces began their mission to kill or capture Osama bin Laden May 1, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “fingered his rosary beads” in the Situation Room of the White House.

It’s not the first time we have heard about Biden’s rosary. An Irish Catholic from Scranton, the vice president carries his rosary with him.  It is said that when he underwent brain surgery, he asked doctors if he could keep a rosary under his pillow. And, when he was exploring a run for the presidency in 2008, Biden famously said he would “shove his rosary beads down the throat” of any Republican who said he wasn’t religious.


Dutch priest meets his American liberator from WWII

A touching story from The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington.

Lying in a hospital bed, his heart failing, Allan Wood met a priest.

The two were sharing a room at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center when Wood discerned the priest’s Dutch accent. They struck up a conversation, and soon these two men, ages 89 and 88, uncovered a shared experience from decades ago that molded their lives.

They had never met until their chance encounter in the hospital last Nov. 11 – Veterans Day. But they spoke intimately of Sept. 17, 1944, in Nijmegen, one of Holland’s oldest cities.

Wood was among more than 40,000 U.S. Army soldiers who boarded a fleet of C-47 airplanes in England, flew several hundred miles on a crisp clear day, and parachuted into a daring military plan drawn up to liberate the Dutch, outflank the enemy and seize the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany.

The priest, Arnold Schoffelmeer, was a seminary student at the time. He lived quietly, sometimes hiding to avoid being conscripted into the occupying German army or sent to labor camps.

The two elderly men shared their memories of those momentous days. Wood told of his jump and tough mission. Schoffelmeer, who struggles to speak, recalled the joy of liberation and street celebrations. And he offered thanks.

“You saved my town. You saved my life,” Schoffelmeer told Wood as he held his hand tight.

The meeting has been cathartic for Wood, who received the Bronze Star for combat valor and a Purple Heart. He has struggled all his life with his memories and role in the war.

“I really wept. It was such a powerful statement from him, and to think I had a part in that was just unreal,” he said.

“He lived in that city and he saw our chutes opening and us coming down.”

Holland would be Wood’s first jump, and he steeled himself for battle.

He had missed parachuting into Normandy three months earlier. Commanders had sent him to cadet training in Vermont instead.

He felt guilty about missing the invasion of France where his unit, like so many others, took heavy casualties.

With 80 pounds of guns, grenades, bullets and extra gear strapped to his body, he drifted into the Dutch countryside as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Inside the city, the drone of hundreds of airplanes brought townspeople to their windows and into the streets. Among them was Schoffelmeer, who gazed into the sky as the paratroopers descended “like angels.” They represented freedom to the Dutch, who had lived under Nazi occupation for five years.

“We were so happy,” Schoffelmeer, a Spokane priest for decades, told close friends who are supervising his care in a North Side nursing home. “We wanted to be saved. To be free.”

Much more here.  Be sure to check out the video.


Sudanese prophesy?

As the world awaits the results of a referendum on independence in Southern Sudan, some believe the creation of a new African nation was predicted in the Bible.  From the AP:

For some south Sudanese Christians, their opportunity to vote for independence from the largely Muslim north is more than a condition of a peace accord ending a two-decade civil war. It’s the divine will of God.

They believe the independence of their nation was foretold in the Bible more than 2,000 years ago. Isaiah 18 is one of several passages that refers to the land of Cush, which describes the people as tall and smooth-skinned and the land as divided by rivers.

“It used to be read so many times on Sunday,” said Ngor Kur Mayol, who drove to Nashville from Atlanta (in early January) to vote in the independence referendum, as many expatriates in the U.S. did. “It mentions a lot the way we were suffering in for so many years and how that same suffering, we’re going to end it today, to vote for independence.”

The interpretation is not so far-fetched, said Ellen Davis, a professor at Duke Divinity School who has been working with the Episcopal Church of Sudan to strengthen theological education there since 2004.

“There’s no doubt that Isaiah 18 really is speaking about the people of the upper Nile,” she said. “It really is speaking about the Sudanese people.”

Davis said the belief in the prophecy is nearly universal among the Christians she has met in Sudan.

“In general Sudanese Christians believe to a much greater extent than mainline North American Christians that the Bible speaks to current events, specifically political events,” Davis said.

More here.


Remembering the real Matthew Snyder

Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder

It’s a sad reality that Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder has become linked to the Westboro Baptist Church.

The 20-year-old Marine was killed nearly five years ago when his Humvee overturned in Iraq. During his funeral, Westboro protesters held anti-gay and anti-Catholic signs outside St. John in Westminster – inexplicably insisting that Snyder’s death was part of God’s vengeance on America for its tolerance of homosexuality.

Snyder was Catholic, but not gay.

Albert Snyder, Matthew Snyder’s father, sued the Rev. Fred W. Phelps and members of his Westboro congregation, seeking financial compensation for emotional distress, defamation and other injuries. The case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court and is expected to be decided this year.

Working on a report in last week’s Catholic Review about the heartwrending story, I could clearly hear Jane Perkins’ passion as Matthew Snyder’s maternal aunt told me how difficult it has been that people think of her beloved nephew only in connection with the ugliness of Westboro. They don’t know about what a great human being he was, she said.

I invited Perkins to write a reflection on the real Matthew Snyder.  She graciously agreed, and I’m honored to share it with you here.

Jane Perkins holds Matthew Snyder after his 1985 baptism. (Courtesy Jane Perkins)

Matt is my Godchild. This is an important relationship, one which I treasure still, and in an instant can be brought to the moment I was asked to be Godmother to Matt.

I love the photo of Matt, with his bald little head, being held in my arms that Christening Day. Living in another state, I was not blessed to share as much time with Matt and his sisters as my siblings were, but we did pretty well, nevertheless. Julie and the children would come to visit overnight and my family would do the same with her. And of course, our family is very close, so there are always parties, graduations and sacraments to celebrate which brought all of the families and cousins together for fun and laughter.

Through the years, my thoughts of Matt run like a picture movie reel. Seeing him for the first time, holding him at the Baptismal font, watching him waddle over to my car when I gave him his first birthday gift – a giraffe clothes tree that each of the nieces and nephews were given on their first birthday. I see him with red painted feet at 18 months, in his kitchen, walking over and over again across white paper, in order for me to be able to make gifts for friends of mine. I see him in his little red shorts and bow tie, twisting and dancing at my wedding (he was 3). I didn’t get to see him play his sports when he was little, but my albums have his team photos, swinging a bat, holding a soccer ball. I think of the talents he possessed: black ink sketch drawings, pottery figures, his love for anything baseball amidst arrowheads and precious stones.

I see him in his bathing suit running around at his 8th birthday as we celebrate summer, and Matt. I see him in videos talking to the camera and telling the world all there is to know. I see a little 10-year-old boy driving 3 hours to his baby cousin’s Baptism. Matt arrives and presents a hand-created posterboard that had drawings of each of the important items that are a part of the Baptism ceremony—the oil, the white cloth, the candle…each with its meaning special for 1-month old Catie Jane. He’s older, and chooses St. Sebastian as his Confirmation saint—Matt was unique in his thoughts and in his actions.

Matthew Snyder (second from left), sits with some cousins awaiting the baptism of another cousin. (Courtesy Jane Perkins)

He comes into my backdoor and says “Hi, Aunt Jane, I was hoping you’d have barbecue!” I hear him laughing at the bonfire in the back woods. I see him dunking his cousins in the pool. I hear him laughing and playing games with the ‘kids.”

In our family, Matt is the oldest male cousin, so he is a role model, and he did it well. Although from start to finish, the cousins were ‘13 stairsteps’ little more than a year apart from each other, the oldest were never too old, or too cool or too busy to take time and have FUN with the younger ones. They rolled down hills, stared at clouds, rode wagons, took walks, played games, hiked a football, roasted marshmallows, told ghost stories, trekked through the woods and played football on Thanksgiving. They went fishing, body surfing, told jokes and went to the Baltimore zoo together. I see Matt sitting on the curb, as the July 4th parade marches by. I see Matt living life to the fullest, always smiling. I see Matt laughing so hard, he could be crying.

I hear Matt on the phone telling me he joined the Marines. I say, “Matt, I know you wanted to surprise me, but I can’t say I am surprised. I’m proud of you. When do you leave?” Matt was excited, ready and growing up. He was not 18. That fall, before he left, he came to Lancaster and we met in the parking lot of Dutch Wonderland—we both knew where it was, because when Matt was little, our families would meet there for the day and have fun together. We drove to Good & Plenty for a family style lunch. I told everyone at the table, this is my nephew and he is leaving for boot camp. Matt was always humble, and quietly thanked the strangers for their good wishes. Later I thought, maybe we should have gone somewhere less crowded, that we could have spent more alone time.

John Francis, Matthew Snyder's grandfather, carries his grandson at a Fourth of July parade. Francis is a former Marine from the Korean War. (Courtesy Jane Perkins)

Matt loved everything about his Marine life—there were struggles, of course, but he was so proud of his accomplishments, such as when he made ‘marksman.’ He was supposed to be deployed much earlier than he did, but playing soccer, he broke his leg in two areas and had to recoup.

When he flew back from 29 Palms, I was in Baltimore, so I wanted to go with my sister to pick him up. Here was this young man, whom I had not seen too often since he returned from boot camp (very lean from the rigors) and now, he is hobbling on crutches and still grabbed his duffel bag and carried it along. He was the Marine we knew he would be—strong, confident and still, humble.

I see Matt carrying the birthday cake, in his fatigues, for my grandmother—his great grandmother who is 98. I see him with his new camera that he is taking with him to Iraq. He is so excited. He is like a kid in a candy store. He has fun acting silly and taking pictures with his cousins. Through the years I always ask him, what do you think you want to do? He has dreams—maybe re-enlisting, maybe going to Australia to be a photographer, maybe something with cars, maybe…..

Matt was a friend to everyone—to this day, we hear stories from strangers to us, but friends to Matt, who tell the story of a good friend who was there when needed the most. And that is how Matt was a child—he was one of the smallest kids, but not afraid to stand up for the underdog. And that is how Matt ended up in the humvee—he went overseas in a different MOS, but there was a need in the security convoy, and Matt knew there was a job to be filled, so he volunteered.

That is LCpl. Matthew Snyder. Not the face next to evil. Not the subject of a lawsuit. Not the Marine with a so-called ‘ruined funeral.’ He is Matt. He is LCpl. Matt Snyder whose funeral was attended by so many who loved him and by so many who never knew him but came to honor his service. He lived like so many other kids in America, and who is and will always be loved. And that is how Matt should be remembered, identified, seen and heard.

Matthew Snyder visits with family after returning from boot camp in 2004. (Courtesy Jane Perkins)


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