After marathon trip to Philly, military mom says experience 'fantastic' - Catholic Courier

After marathon trip to Philly, military mom says experience ‘fantastic’

By Joyce Duriga 
Catholic News Service
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — To be able to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, Heather Kershner and her four kids boarded a cargo jet from Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii, to Coronado, California.
They spent the night and then flew on a Navy charter to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After meeting her mother in Washington, and dropping off her two youngest children, ages 3 and 4, Kershner drove on to Philadelphia with her two oldest, ages 6 and 8.
It was a long journey, but it was worth it, the 28-year-old mother said.
Kershner’s family was one of 10 military families who received scholarships to attend the World Meeting of Families Sept. 22-25 in Philadelphia. Catholics from around the country donated to the scholarships and the archdiocese helped defray hotel costs.
Pope John Paul II created the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services in 1985 to provide pastoral ministries and spiritual services to those in the
U.S. armed forces stationed at than 220 installations in 29 countries. It also serves patients in 153 medical centers run by the Veterans Affairs and federal employees serving outside the U.S. in 134 countries.
The military archdiocese ministers to more than 1.8 million men, women and children.
At the time, she learned her family won a scholarship Kershner’s husband, Rob, an Army lieutenant, was deployed in Operation Pacific Pathways in Australia and the idea of taking her four small kids across the country on standby "Space Available" military flights didn’t appeal to her.
"But my mom said to me, ‘God’s put this in your path. He’ll probably help you get there,’" said Kershner, whose family is stationed at Schofield Barracks near Honolulu.
At first, she questioned whether she was "Catholic enough" to be at the meeting, but at the end of the week Kershner said the experience was "fantastic."
"It’s almost been a verification to me of why I’m Catholic," she said. "And my children have met kids from all over the world."
Her 6-year-old daughter, Lily, even befriended one of the Sisters of Life and they promised to be pen pals.
Before the World Meeting of Families, Kershner said, she often wondered if her views matched Catholic teaching and if she was interpreting Pope
Francis’ words correctly but after attending the meeting was pleasantly surprised.
"There’s a lot more tolerance in our religion than what I had thought," she told Catholic News Service. "It’s fantastic."
At the end of the week, Rob was able to join the family for Pope Francis’ visit. His journey getting there was even longer than his family’s. Rob flew from his deployment in Malaysia, to Guam, to Oahu, to Chicago to Philadelphia.
Another scholarship family was U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. William Jones and his wife and three children.
Jones, whose family attends Mass at Marine Memorial Chapel at Camp Pendleton, California, said the daily Masses during the World Meeting of Families made an impression with the procession of bishops, priests and the Knights of Columbus and the more than 15,000 people there each day.
"It’s amazing to see all the people come in there, and each day they had a new bishop from a different country," said Jones, a Purple Heart recipient and a Marine for 14 years. "It’s been probably the most pivotal point in the week."
For his children, seeing so many people in one place who share the same faith will leave an impression. Jones’ children ages 6, 8 and 15 attended the Youth Congress that was a part of the World Meeting of Families.
"The education that the kids have gotten in the last few days has been phenomenal," Jones said. "Every night they come home and they ask me questions — and these are like zingers."
His 6-year-old son told him he wants to be a saint, but he doesn’t want to die. He asked his dad if he has to die to do so and if he is good, will he be a saint when he dies. Big questions.
Military families face different challenges from families where parents have more traditional jobs and have different pastoral needs.
"Almost all the talks we went to everyone says, ‘You gotta be with your family. You gotta stay home,’" he said. "We don’t have that option. We have to leave."
He said he asked some of the speakers how military families can compensate for leaving their family for a while, but they didn’t have an answer.
"They said, ‘You know, everyone has to leave for a week or two.’ I said, ‘No, months and years.’"
Military families could benefit from some pastoral insight in that area, he said.
The other area where the wider church could help military families is by sending priests to serve. The Archdiocese of Military Services, based in Washington, doesn’t have enough volunteer priests to become military chaplains to meet the needs of the Catholics in the armed forces.
A priest must get the permission of his bishop to serve in the military. These chaplains are then under the jurisdiction of the military archdiocese.
"We’re now deploying units without priests," said Jones, adding that on his base a "contract priest" serves Catholic members of the military and their families because of the shortage of priests in the military.
Contract priests are civilians who serve on a base for a defined amount of time or on a need basis.
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Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
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A video to accompany this story can be found at

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