Sunday, April 13, 2003

Palm Sunday at the Baghdad airport

On Palm Sunday in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers on bent knee paused in silence during a field mass for a reading of the Passion. "Jesus gave a loud cry, and breathed his last," read Lt. Mike Heninger, Catholic priest for the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Army Division. In the service, Heninger directed the troops to find strength in Lent's lesson of self-sacrifice. "Jesus went forward knowing full well what was expected of him," Heninger said. "How have we been dealing with hardship in this time of Lent in the desert?" The mass was held in a dark, dust filled building with broken windows - a former Iraqi catering facility at Saddam International Airport,. Impromptu pews were made by pulling dusty seats together and covering them with green Iraqi Airways blankets. The altar was a serving cart, covered in another green blanket. "I think the appropriate colors are white, but we don't have white sheets," said 3rd ID Chaplain Lt. Col. Roger Heath.

Heninger also gathered long leaves from nearby palm trees to hand out to the congregation of troops. The tone of the service was quiet and serious. Keeping a commitment to serve "isn't always easy," Heninger said. "It was challenging there in the garden, when Christ said, 'Father, if this cup is to be passed to me, let it be passed.'" Heninger said. "We find ourselves in these times of hardships, perhaps during this operation, when we wish the cup would be passed, that we would not have to drink from this cup of sacrifice. But it is in these times where we need to walk in the footsteps of Christ."