Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"A Man of Peace"

Believed to be the first military chaplain wounded in Iraq, Fr Tim Vakoc -- a priest of the Twin Cities serving as a major in the Army -- died Saturday at 49:
Father Vakoc... lost an eye and sustained brain damage when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee on May 29, 2004, as he was returning to his barracks after celebrating Mass for U.S. soldiers.
In recent years, Father Vakoc (pronounced VAH-kitch) had been showing signs of physical and cognitive improvement.

A June 11 entry on Father Vakoc’s CaringBridge site noted that he participated with family and friends in a special Mass June 10 celebrating the 17th anniversary of his ordination, five years of post-accident life and appreciation for all those who were contributing to his care.

“All of us in this Catholic archdiocese are grieving with the family of Father Vakoc,” Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement. “We are joined in that grieving, to be sure, by the men and woman whom he served as chaplain in Iraq and those who witnessed his extraordinary courage and faith at Walter Reed Hospital and here at our Veterans’ Hospital.”

Calling Father Vakoc “a man of peace,” Archbishop Nienstedt said “he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America’s fighting men and women. He has been an inspiration to us all and we will miss him.

“We ask everyone to remember him in prayer,” he added....

According to a National Catholic Register story printed just a month before his own accident, Father Vakoc flew to a combat surgical hospital to be with two soldiers who had just been injured in a roadside bombing in which two others had been killed. One died before he reached the hospital.

He prayed for the soldiers who died and with the injured soldier, and then prayed with the other soldiers in the convoy who were not injured, but “in the state of shock.”

Father Vakoc’s ministry — which earned him the rank “major” — also included presiding at a memorial service for a young man killed in a roadside explosion, who just days before had talked about faith with Father Vakoc and read at Mass.

“The bottom line in helping these soldiers through the grieving process is to be present to them and walk with them,” Father Vakoc told the Register in an e-mail. “I prayed with the soldiers who died. I brought the sacraments of the church and the light and love of Christ into the darkness of the situations.”

Father Vakoc called his ministry one of “intentional presence,” and it included counseling soldiers, ministering to Catholics and soldiers of all faiths, escorting the bodies of fallen soldiers, speaking with soldiers’ family members and keeping up morale.

“I live with the soldiers, work with them, eat with them, care for them, listen to them, counsel them,” Father Vakoc told the Register. “The soldiers know if you are real and genuinely care or not. The soldiers see me out there with them and that makes a difference.”