U.S. Church News

N.J. parishioners respond to street violence with prayer

By Mary Stadnyk Catholic News Service

People outside St. James Church in Trenton, N.J., pray Pope Francis' "Prayer for Peace and Protection from Violence and from Terrorism." (CNS photo/Handout, courtesy The Monitor Magazine)

TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) -- A recent homily by the pastor of St. James Church in Trenton got an immediate response from parishioners.

Inspired, they got up and walked outside of the church and prayed for peace, reciting Pope Francis' "Prayer for Peace and Protection from Violence and from Terrorism" to confront rising violence in New Jersey's capital city.

Trinitarian Father Stanley DeBoe, pastor of Incarnation-St. James Parish, which includes St. James Church, suggested during Mass the morning of Aug. 29 that a prayerful witness could help begin to reverse the trend toward violence and serve to show the surrounding neighborhood that parishioners were a visible presence for peace.

Trenton has experienced a rash of shootings leading to that weekend, including three incidents within a 10-day period that were within two blocks of the church.

A shooting that occurred directly across the street from the church the morning of Aug. 27 was especially troublesome. News reports indicated that a man, who was sitting in his car, was critically injured when he was struck with a bullet in a drive-by shooting.

Although Father DeBoe was disturbed by the increased violence, he said the Aug. 27 shooting "really shook me." He was notified about the incident from an official at the Sprout School, a charter school located in the building of the former St. James School.

"The students and staff were sheltering in place," he said. "Everyone in the building was OK, but as news and pictures came in, it was evident that the violence rocking our city and cities around the country, is right at our front door."

Father DeBoe informed Trenton Bishop David M. O'Connell about the incident and shared ideas he wanted to implement in the parish to address violence. He said he wanted to "encourage us, as a parish community, to become involved in actions of prayer and solidarity for our neighbors who live in fear and violence."

It was heartening, Father DeBoe said, when Bishop O'Connell responded and expressed compassion. "Add my own prayers to yours," the bishop wrote in an email. "Please give my love and prayers to all."

Along with reciting the pope's prayer after the homily, Father DeBoe's other goals related to raising awareness about neighborhood violence. Although he is aware of safety concerns, he told The Monitor, newspaper of the Trenton Diocese that it also was his prayer that the incidents do not frighten parishioners or prevent them from taking positive action.

"I want (the incidents) to challenge us and for them to be an opportunity for us to be instruments of comfort, instruments of hope, instruments of love and change that will transform our neighborhood," he said.

Father DeBoe told of how the day before the Mass he walked through the neighborhood in an effort to meet residents living near the church, something he had not had the opportunity to do since arriving as pastor of Incarnation-St. James in December.

"I sat on a few porches and listened to what they had to say. A couple of neighbors even invited me into their homes for coffee. I heard stories about our neighborhood," he said, adding that it's obvious that "they love this neighborhood, they're proud of it and they are happy we are here."

The local violence, he said, is not caused by the residents but by "those who are trying to scare people on this street ... by people who are trying to take over this street."

"They want this street, but we're not going to let them have it," he said of the residents and the parishioners who return to worship at St. James Church even though they may live elsewhere.

In his homily, he urged parishioners to be mindful of the importance of being a continued presence in the wider community.

"People are dying, being shot right at our doorstep and we can't be blind to those at our doorstep," he said. "The beauty of our church and our parish community needs to spill out of our hearts and out of this building and onto the street and into the homes of those who are right here. They are our neighbors."

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Stadnyk is associate editor of The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton.

For Catholic veterans, 9/11 changed trajectory of their military careers

By Katie Peterson Catholic News Service

Deacon John Krenson, retired colonel in the Tennessee National Guard, poses next to the American Flag Sept. 9, 2021, at Operation Standdown in Nashville, Tenn. Deacon Krenson served in the Tennessee National Guard from 1986 to 2016. (CNS photo/Katie Peterson, Tennessee Register)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- On Sept. 11, 2001, Deacon John Krenson went to work like it was any other day. He walked into his business and his colleagues were glued to the television set following the first plane crash into the World Trade Center.

At the time, he was an officer in the Tennessee Army National Guard and he remembers saying after the second plane crashed into the other twin tower: "I don't know if it's going to be in two weeks, two months or two years, but I guarantee you, I'm going somewhere because of this."

Although he had been serving in the National Guard since 1986, his typical service included only one weekend a month, a few weeks of training in the summer, and some schooling. His only deployment experiences were to Panama and Bulgaria for training exercises.

"Service was just part of my life," he said. "It didn't consume much of my life, but that all changed after 9/11," he told the Tennessee Register, diocesan newspaper.

The anticipated deployment came in August 2003, when he went to Afghanistan to be a liaison with U.S. forces embedded with NATO forces. His deployment to Afghanistan lasted through May 2004, but he was deployed to Iraq in 2010.

Six years later, he retired from the National Guard but much about his year in Afghanistan still sticks with him.

When asked about the U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan this summer, he said he feels devastated and frustrated adding: "I feel we've abandoned our Afghan allies and people, especially the most vulnerable ones."

He said the "veteran network has kicked into high gear," with people checking in on each other, calling or texting almost daily but now he is more worried about the Afghans.

"I don't think people realize how veterans feel about our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "We're not anti-Muslim. We've served with Muslims, and Muslims had my life in their hands many times in both countries. That means a lot to me, and I'm very, very worried for them."

John Schuller, a retired chief warrant officer and a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville, served in the Army from 1976 to 2006. Before 9/11, he said he was planning to retire, but when the planes hit the twin towers in New York, he knew his unit, 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, would be one of the first to deploy in response.

"We were out of the country by the beginning of October," Schuller said and his unit remained in Afghanistan until spring of 2002. He deployed three times to Iraq after that.

For him, the U.S. departure from this region "seems like our blood and treasure were wasted in the way that we left the (Afghans) without any support. It seems like we took an easy way out."

"We left a lot of people we made commitments to," he said referring to Afghan interpreters and soldiers that the U.S. military "said we'd always be there for and we're not now. ... It's heartbreaking."

Schuller said his experience has pushed him more toward his Catholic faith.

"After my whole military service, I had some really bad times when I first got out of the military until I got the help I needed ... and belief in God and church helps me, too," Schuller said. "It forces me to look at the fact that I can't fix everything. I can't change it.

For now, he said: "All I can hope is that sometime in the future there is going to be some good come of it."

As he learns to leave some things in God's hands, Schuller has been serving as a mentor to local veterans who have fallen into legal trouble after their service through the Veterans Treatment Court in the state.

Robin Vozar, also a retired chief warrant officer and parishioner at Immaculate Conception, served with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, for the majority of his 37-year career, from 1983 to 2020, making him the longest-serving member of the Night Stalker unit.

Like Schuller, Vozar was used to deploying prior to Sept. 11.

Now, reflecting over the last 20 years, Vozar said, it is about making the right decisions as the fight against terrorism continues.

He said the Night Stalker Association, for which he is currently serving as president, works to honor the fallen members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

John Veltri, retired chief warrant officer also from Immaculate Conception Parish, served in the Army from 1985 to 2013.

He was in Saudi Arabia training with foreign militaries when the 9/11 attacks happened and said that right after that the entire unit packed up its equipment and deployed to a neighboring country in preparation for the invasion of Afghanistan.

During his years of deployments in Iraq, Veltri's career developed from being a grounds level operational element to serving mostly in the group headquarters in Iraq working on staff for resource operations, planning operations, informational data and more.

Today, he just hopes Americans recognize military services as an honorable one and one that is "a service of sacrifice for the greater good."

Father Tettey Bleboo, a native of Ghana, was stationed in Germany as a U.S. Army chaplain at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

The priest, who became a U.S. citizen in the 1990s, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2003 and again in 2013. As part of the Chaplains Corps, his mission was to care for the wounded, to provide support by being present with soldiers and nurturing them in faith, and to honor the fallen.

"As Catholics, we have the sacraments. I would say Mass for the service members, strengthen them by the Word of God. That's giving them the inner strength to help them go on," he continued. "One thing about our military is the fact that we try to do the right thing. We try to do the right thing always, even when others don't follow."

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Peterson writes for the Tennessee Register, diocesan newspaper of Nashville.

Hurricane Ida changed, but didn't delay, couple's wedding plans

By Jo Ann Zuñiga Catholic News Service

Newlyweds Janella Jett and Byron Perrilliat of New Orleans are surrounded by family Sept. 9, 2021, at St. Thomas More in Houston. After evacuating Louisiana because of Hurricane Ida, the couple was married in Houston. (CNS photo/Jett and Perrilliat family, courtesy Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston)

HOUSTON (CNS) -- Janella Jett and Byron Perrilliat planned to marry Sept. 3 in a New Orleans church where they grew up, but Hurricane Ida had different plans when it barreled into the region Aug. 29.

The couple, along with their families, headed to Houston with Jett's wedding gown intact.

"Byron and I have been friends throughout the years since going to school and church together. But it's just been the past few years that we realized we were on the same spiritual level," Jett told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

The couple, both in their 40s, decided to get married in the church in their neighborhood until "a big hurricane started coming that way," Jett said.

So when they evacuated to Houston along with a line of traffic, they called the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to ask if they could still get married on Sept. 3.

Victoria Fontana Smith, administrative assistant for the Secretariat for Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services, connected several priests to the case to make sure the marriage documents were in order and even called the archbishop of New Orleans to confirm.

Archdiocesan officials in Galveston-Houston checked with priests who could officiate over the wedding on such short notice. Smith also checked with St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Houston, and ultimately Father Thuc Nguyen was tapped for the wedding Mass.

"Obviously, this was a special circumstance because of the hurricane," Smith said of the group effort involved.

And even then, it was a close call in hot, humid Houston. The couple was caught unaware in a flash flood on their wedding day.

"After all that, we were almost stuck in a flood on the outskirts of Houston. I prayed to God and said, 'please don't be joking with us,'" Jett said. "But we made it to the church on time!"

They celebrated with a brief honeymoon in Houston and then Atlanta before returning to New Orleans by Sept. 7 to review the damage to their homes.

"We have foundation and roof damage. There's still no power and long lines for everything from resources to ice and even running out of gas. But I can't complain," she said.

Perrilliat is a contractor by trade, so he will be working on the repairs.

"The church was so beautiful, and Father Thuc was so nice. We couldn't have asked for better. It was a perfect church wedding," Jett said.

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Zuñiga writes for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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