Regardless of one’s stance on war, Emma Lou Smith believes that “it’s just a Christian thing to do” to support military personnel while they risk their lives for our sake.
“They made a decision to make a sacrifice, and we need to honor that. They made a special choice, separating themselves from family and friends. This is not taking a stand, not a position on the war. This is about our men and women,” asserted Smith, a parishioner of Schuyler Catholic Community.
Smith’s concern was reflected in a special military Sunday held July 29 at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen. Taking place in conjunction with the regularly scheduled 10 a.m. Mass, it paid tribute to approximately 30 military personnel and their families.
Nearly 50 family members were among the congregation, and three actual honorees attended as well: Maj. James Coleman, MD, U.S. Army National Guard, who has done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan; Sgt. Jeremy J. Hoffman, Army National Guard, who has served in Iraq; and Navy Airman Scott Westerville, who is now based in Virginia Beach. This trio presented the Communion gifts and also were acknowledged by Deacon Dave LaFortune with a special prayer.
For those service people who could not be present, photos were displayed on a flag-motif quilt near the altar. Details about each person’s family and history of military service also were included on the quilt. Adding to the theme were the playing of patriotic songs before Mass and “God Bless America” as the closing hymn. Deacon LaFortune, who gave the homily, emphasized the importance of prayer and linked that to the needs of military personnel.
Congregants were asked to wear red, white and blue that day, and a Catholic Daughters of America-sponsored coffee hour featured the patriotic colors as well. Smith said the theme was “very well-received,” noting that many people wore flag pins and other flag-related jewelry.
Smith serves as head regent of Catholic Daughters Lourdes Court 628 at St. Mary of the Lake. She arranges “card showers” throughout the year, usually at holidays, getting parishioners to write notes on cards that are forwarded to military members in such diverse locales as Iraq, Afghanistan, Alaska and Germany. Smith also organizes the periodic assembly of care packages that contain personal-care items, clothing, snack foods, local newspapers and Catholic reading material donated by parishioners.
Recipients are gleaned from a list of military people with parish and community connections that Smith maintains.
“The list keeps on growing,” she remarked.
These remembrances are important because recipients are “not here to celebrate birthdays and holidays,” said Smith, a retired American history and global-studies teacher at Watkins Glen High School. She also organized a similar school-based effort during the Persian Gulf War.
She added that personal struggles can continue even after military stints have ended, noting that she currently knows of two such people — one suffering from war-related injuries and one with mental scars.
“For many of them, there are repercussions,” she said.
Smith said she hopes the military Mass will become an annual affair at St. Mary of the Lake, and encourages other parishes to perform similar acts of recognition.
“Even if the (Iraq) war ends, we’ll keep doing this,” she said. “It was overpowering for many people; we’d never had a Mass like this done before. It sort of brought the community together, and for that day what was foremost on their minds was the sacrifice of families and soldiers.”