Friday, December 28, 2007

Hodie Christus natus est! Today Christ is born!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007 10:25:12 AM EST
Merry Christmas to all!














Christmas Eve sunrise over the Euphrates.














Christmas Day in Iraq was simply another Tuesday and the market full of a variety of fruit and vegetables shows a measure of peace for a war-weary people.














The face of Iraq's future.














The brilliant desert sunset of Christmas Day proclaims the glory of the Creator born to set us all free from the darkness of sin.

The Christmas journey began for RP3 Yau and me on Sunday afternoon, 23 December, with a convoy from Al Asad to COP MHC. We joined a second convoy with Chaplain Townes and RP Hill, of 1st Bn, 7th Marines, that evening which stopped at the Euphrates where we set out on foot to cross the river on a double pontoon bridge connected by an island. The full moonlight reflected off the bridge and the water, guiding our steps. The golden squares marking the windows of the houses along the waters' edge kept a lonely watch. A man sat by a wall, silently observing our movements. The Marines did the work of gaurdian angels, the sad reality of earthly conflict evident in their weapons loaded and ready. The palm trees and exotic atmosphere glowing with the radiance of the moon enabled me for a very short time to imagine I was anywhere else but a war-torn and troubled country which, with much work and prayer may, after many years, know a peace and security such as we are blessed with in our own country.














Company Commander Capt Doan and Catholic lay leader Lt Rey (lower right) after Midnight Mass at COP 4 with Marines and Soldier. The joyful worshippers went forth to spread the spirit of celebration by singing carols. There were reports of a few roused from Christmas slumber by these messengers of the Lord's birth.

Chaplain Richard Townes steps into the boat, piloted by a local man, ahead of me as we prepare to cross the Euphrates to reach Marines and Sailors for Christmas celebrations in Hit. Our highlight Christmas Day was a second river crossing by boat made necessary because a major bridge in the city of Hit was blown up a few weeks ago. A half-dozen Iraqi boatmen coursed back and forth ferrying customers across the river, the banks of which are lined with the remains of other more ancient bridges built by men but defeated by nature and time. Because of the need to travel light I did not carry my Mass kit but, instead, the consecrated Eucharist to celebrate a communion service for the Marines and Sailors at our destination. We joined Chaplain Townes and the other Marines for a service of Christmas lessons and carols before we went apart to gather around our Lord for a short Catholic service to celebrate His birth in the most perfect way by partaking of His Body and Blood. I thanked the CO, Captain Caballero, for setting a good example and practicing his Catholic Faith.

The town of Juba on an island in the Euphrates. We hiked across the pontoon bridges linked by this picturesque islet with minaret tower and ruins to reach COP Timberwolf on the Fourth Sunday of Advent and back out on the morning of Christmas Eve after staying overnight.

We sang carols and the various prayers of the Mass at all of the Catholic celebrations, bringing more powerful and comforting memories of home and family to our faithful here in Iraq. In particular, I made a point of singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" at all of our stops after my brother, Conor, wrote to tell me how singing this carol brought comfort and joy to him at the celebration of Mass in Kuwait on the previous Sunday. He is an Army Lieutenant Colonel and Brigade Executive Officer currently deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq. The desert rang once again at Christmas with the sound of praise in song as it surely did 2,000 years ago when the Apostles and their disciples first brought our blessed Faith to this land.

The lack of church buildings in which to celebrate Mass sometimes frees our imaginations to embrace more fully the signs which God uses to make himself known in the Scriptures. At each of our Masses I shared with the Marines and Sailors the fulfillment of God's promise in the book of Samuel that He Himself would "build a house" for His people. In Christ who comes to us at Bethlehem and in every Eucharist we are the House that God promised because, by the grace of our Baptism, we are the living stones that make up the edifice built by God which is the Church. As a sign of this I invited the Marines to face the Lord together with me in the liturgy of the Eucharist, themselves the "walls" of the living Church.

My ministry totalled 11 Masses and two Communion services, reaching a total of 102 Marines and Sailors from the night of 4th Sunday of Advent to Christmas night. This number does not include those who were unable to join us because they were on post or out on patrols. The many who are indifferent to the Lord also deserve a remembrance in your prayers.

Thank you for your solidarity with us in prayer and love as we continue to seek the goodness of the Lord. His real presence on the first Christmas at Bethlehem, the "house of bread", continues for us as He makes of all the places where we celebrate holy Mass a true house of the "Bread of Life" here and now. We learn from Him, therefore, how to be truly present in love to Him and one another, living the grace of the Eucharist every day in repentance for sins and conversion of life. Christ the Savior is born!

Friday, December 21, 2007

"God is with us"
Marines, L to R, Cpl Sean Schaffe, Lcpl Dustin Wear, Lcpl Dario Murillo, Lcpl Florencio Villareal, Sgt Tim Talbott and Cpl Canaan Heard, display the crucifix, a gift from the faithful of Our Savior Catholic Church in Cocoa Beach, Florida, to Haditha Dam chapel.


The trickle grows to a torrent as word spreads among the community here that a priest is among them. The baptismal gift of faith is stirred into flame as some witness to others, inviting them to join us for celebration of holy Mass and our numbers grow. Emmanuel is truly a "God with us" for his true and real presence under the sign of bread in the Eucharist is limited for us only by our unwillingness to welcome Him, to receive Him as a gift. As more seek to follow Him the remnant church swells into a throng, witnessing to all the world that God has come among us never to leave us again.
Our planned flight back to Al Asad this morning did not materialize, so I had the opportunity once again to "break bread and pray" with the people of God at Haditha Dam. Marines from Texas, Alabama and Louisiana wish you a Merry Christmas around the tree which our host, Chaplain Bergstresser, has decorated for the chapel here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007
2:10:44 PM EST
"Let the rivers clap their hands...
...let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity." (Psalm 98)
Our view of the flowing waters of the Euphrates River applauding the Maker of heaven and earth as we hike across the railway span.

Another early morning for us today as we joined a convoy to outpost Sinjic, situated close to a railroad bridge over the Euphrates river. It is now so cold that we are able to see our breath in the mornings. With anticipation we await "the dawn from on high" that comes to return warmth to the earth. We should always be prepared to welcome the Son of God as readily as we welcome the rays of the morning sun. He is the strength of our hope and gives us reason to hasten toward our goal of eternal life as we shake off the coldness of unbelief and the lassitude of doubt.
Our morning Eucharist was followed by a hike across the railroad bridge with a panoramic view of the clear flowing waters of the Euphrates and the palm groves and ruins along the rivers' edge. Marines use cameras to observe activity on the bridge and outposts to both protect and check those who travel it. We gratefully thanked them for their protective overwatch.
The words of Psalm 98 came to mind as I watched the beauty of the water lapping in morning sunlight, perfectly praising the Creator in symphony together with all things He has made. He whose love is so evident in the music and movement of all that surrounds us should inspire in us hope for His coming, that He will restore true justice upon the earth, fulfilling the desire of the nations.
On the other side of the river we gathered a group of ten Marines and a Corpsman from Louisana and Texas, separated Christian brothers and Catholics together, for holy Mass at outpost Tahati. I urged them to live out their Faith in the challenging moments, for God has come in the flesh, our Emmanuel, that he might become relevant to all that we experience, especially our difficulties and crosses. We gave them the gift of candy from the St. Philip's faith family and they, as we departed with a convoy backto the Dam, gave gifts of care packages to us.
The desire to receive the reward of grace from God in return for our generosity toward others is beautifully expressed at Christmas time with our custom of giving gifts. Emmanuel can be present to us as often as we desire if we will but let Him lead us in peace, as we serve each other, giving and receiving love. Let us invite Him at every moment - for Christmas is too wonderful to be but one day of every year. "He who is to come will not delay; and there will be no fear in our lands, because He is our Savior." (Heb 10:37)

11:53:25 AM EST
...to guide our feet into the way of peace."
"The dawn from on high shall break upon us... (Luke 1, 78.79) RP3 Mary Paz, bottom right, together with Marines from Tennessee and Louisiana as we prepare to depart on convoy from Haditha Dam to COP Ellis. They carry a "Merry Christmas" greeting with them wherever they go on the front of their HMMWV.
We returned from Mudaysis on Monday afternoon and awoke early the next day for a flight to Haditha Dam. Our feet, and everything above them, experienced something very different than the "way of peace". Yet though there be the "war in our members" as St. Paul describes it, we seek the Lord who restores us through everyone who shows us His face and allows us to hear His voice along our path.
We played what I dubbed "musical Ospreys" at the air base, as we boarded and exited two birds before ending the game, finally, on our original aircraft which then transported us to the Dam.
We joined a convoy to COP Ellis and with the church there we celebrated the word and Eucharist of the "Dawn from on high", our Lord who guides us on our way and refreshes us for the journey through our communio with one another.
We shared the gifts of chocolate candy and Christmas cards from our brothers and sisters of the church of St. Philip the Apostle. Though the Body of Christ may seem a remnant in various places, His power is not diminished and the witness of His people is never without effect for the salvation of others. "Fill me with your praise and I will sing your glory." (Psalm 70)

Monday, December 17, 2007
12:28:34 PM EST
"Unless the Lord build the house...
Those who build it labor in vain." (Psalm 127)
Top: Marines, Soldiers and Sailors are the living stones which together form the "house of God" at FOB Mudaysis. Masses were celebrated twice daily.
Bottom: Marine cooks of MWSS Field Mess at FOB Mudaysis hold a gingerbread house assembled and decorated by yours truly to send you prayers and best wishes for a joyful Christmas season. Top row, left to right, Cpl Allen Sheley, Gysgt Rodrigo Marquez, Sgt Daniel Peck, Cpl German Contreras, Lcpl Javier Cortezbatista. Bottom row, left to right, female Marine friend, Lcpl Lorenzo Ramirezlepe, Cpl Jesse Paredes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007
5:55:18 PM EST
"Be opened."
"He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak." (Mk 7:37)
The church at Camp GCC. Top row: Joseph, Shym, (Baptist friend from Nepal), Daniel, Joseph, Alexander, Jim, Rick, and David. Middle row: Jensen, Robert, Amit, and Edward. Bottom: Peter and Alex.
We began our catechesis this evening with a prayer of gratitude that the Lord makes us one in his Church though we come from places very far apart: Kenya, India, the Philippines, Nepal and the US. We took as our text Mark 7:31ff, the story of the healing of the deaf and mute man. The Lord does not ask if we want his healing gift. He already knows we are in need of a cure and lovingly waits for us to approach Him. Our faith convinces us that He is able to give what we need and so we ask and the Lord sends his priest, through the Church, to anoint the sick with oil, to pray over them, and "the prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up."
Each of us receive the power of the Lord for the first time in our baptism, and our ears are "opened to hear His word and our mouths to proclaim His praise". He continues to be among us, speaking through the Scriptures proclaimed and present in His Eucharist. We must first thus receive Him and then are able to give Him to others every day by word and action.
Robert will prepare for sacramental marriage at home in Kenya. Joseph (top row, center) has been baptized and wishes to prepare for His first confession and holy Communion. The brothers will pray to discern who among them is called to serve as sponsor for these two. Edward has been trained to lead the others in the Sunday celebration when Father is not able to celebrate holy Mass for the group.

Saturday, December 8, 2007
4:10:32 PM EST
Akashat and Norseman: "Make straight his paths"
The church at Norseman: CPT Scheurger, center, Navy LT Castle to his right, and Soldiers.
The world is slow sometimes to make a straight path for the Lord, to open the heart without fear, to trust that Christ does not wish to take anything that we need. No, He takes away only the things that prevnt the making of room in our hearts and minds for the gift of "faith, which is hope" as our Holy Father Benedict teaches in his new encyclical "Spe Salvi". The Lord Jesus through His grace will make a room for Himself in our busy and distracted lives.
There is so little we need; that is our blessing, to depend less on what we want and to allow the Lord to teach us what we truly need: His love and mercy for a sinful world.
Army CPT Jason Schuerger and a group of Soldiers at the far west location of Camp Norseman hosted the celebration of holy Mass. The captain also trained on the "Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest" and received the gift of the celebration ritual book through the generosity of the faith family of St. Philip the Apostle in Camp Springs, MD. They will begin their regular Sunday celebrations this week. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of humble hearts through which you make yourself present again to the world.

Sunday, December 2, 2007
6:07:12 PM EST
."...your opportunity to bear witness."
"Your endurance will win you your lives." (Luke 21:12-19) Left: Cpl Gallmeier and Lcpl Maloney receive the gift of the ritual book for "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest" from the faithful people of St. Philip the Apostle Church at Camp Springs, MD, and will lead worship at COP JCC. Right: These Marines, Sailors and Soldiers at COP Ocotal, who also received a "Sunday Celebrations" ritual book, are now prepared to offer witness by keeping the Lord's Day holy and inviting others to do so. Marines and Sailors of COP Rawah conducted the convoy which enabled Fr. Cusick and RP3 Coles to visit outposts.

Friday, November 30, 2007
4:42:34 PM EST
Help Iraqi Christians
I receive many offers of help from friends and fellow Christians at home and I always urge them first to pray for those they would help. For what should we pray? For peace. And, if you want peace, also work for justice.
Our Holy Father named Archbishop Emmanuel II Delly of Baghdad a cardinal in Rome this month. He encouraged solicitude for our brothers and sisters in Iraq:
“How can we not look with apprehension and affection, in this moment of joy, to the dear Christian community in Iraq? These brothers and sisters of ours in the faith are experiencing in their own flesh the dramatic consequences of a long-lasting conflict, and are living today in an extremely fragile and delicate political situation. By calling the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church to enter into the College of Cardinals, I wanted to express in a concrete way my spiritual closeness and my affection for this population. We wish together, dear and venerable brothers, to reaffirm the solidarity of the entire church with the Christians of that beloved country. We invite and invoke the merciful God, for all the peoples involved, that the longed-for reconciliation and peace may come.”
It is estimated that the war and the resulting conflicts have forced about 40% of the Christian population, once numbered at 1.4 million, to flee their homeland.
We Americans in Iraq are rich. There is very little that we need except to be able to return home to our families and loved ones and our country to live in peace. Our Lord teaches, "To whom much is given, much is expected." The more we realize we are blessed the more responsibility we have to share with the least among us. These least ones are the unborn, the dispossessed, the homeless and those who suffer violence. "The greatest among who you is the one who serves the rest." True greatness lies not in possessions but in the exercise of the role of service in love for the least among us.
If there is more that you would do, work for peace by seeking justice for our fellow believers in Iraq. In recent days a Catholic church was reopened in the Dora district of Baghdad with much rejoicing, and with Muslim brothers attending alongside their Christian neighbors. This event was not widely reported, but you can see photos and read details about the event at Michael Yon's blog: http://www.michaelyon-online.com/wp/come-home.htm
More remains to be done. I invite you to seek further information through the website Iraqi Christians in Need at http://www.icin.org.uk/
God bless you with His peace,
Father Cusick

Thursday, November 29, 2007
12:12:12 PM EST
"Behold, how good and pleasant it is...
...when brothers dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133 [132]) The Christian community at Camp GCC in the "chapel" after holy Mass includes brothers from the Philippines, Nepal, India and Kenya as well as the United States.
Sunday I celebrated holy Mass with the Camp GCC community, both the Catholics and our separated brethren, as last Sunday. Brother Downey, the Army 1LT, attended also as last week while I offered the Mass. We will continue to do all that is in our power to preserve the "unity of the Spirit which has peace as its binding force" and to obey the Lord who prayed "that they all be one".
I exhorted the brothers to seek Christ throughout their day and in their work as they serve others and seek the face of the Lord in each other, especially in the difficult and distressing disguise of those who are angry or difficult, as Mother Teresa compellingly taught. About ten of the Catholic brothers came forward at communion. After I concluded the Mass, Brother Downey offered a teaching on the Scriptures. For hymnals we will use the gift of outdated missalettes from the American community so that we can truly "rejoice in the Lord always" by including song in our worship.
I share the beauty of the opening words of Psalm 133 [132} in Latin: "Ecce quam bonum, et quam iucundum, habitare fratres in unum..."

2:47:58 AM EST
Thanksgiving at COP Da Nang: "Are you married, sir?"

Sunset over COP Da Nang.

Thanksgiving eve:

I know that tomorrow I will be able to thank God for my faith that can make me as rich in peace here in the desert thousands of miles from my families, both my family of faith and of birth, and your embraces of love as if I were present there with you and able to share in your feasting.

So let us be thankful together on Thanksgiving, wherever God has been pleased to place us, and let us remember one another in our prayers of gratitude, that the Lord will always give us whatever He sees fit and that we will always, as at this moment, find peace in His loving Providence.

Thanksgiving:

A young Marine from Connecticut asked me,"Are you married, sir?" "Yes," I answered, "I'm married to the Church. That's why I'm out here with you." "Thank you, sir." he answered.

One effortlessly encounters the image of God in these Marines and Sailors out here where all that they are going through brings out the best in them. All unfailingly pleasant and willing to have conversations with whoever wants to ask them about themselves.
We were only able to go one outpost in addition to the main FOB on this trip because the air community could not source a flight for us. That was okay. The plan was to spend Wednesday at outpost Danang and on Thursday visit two other outposts. Instead we spent Thanksgiving, a second day, at Danang and the other chaplain and I led a short service of Scripture and prayer before the meal and both of us led worship later in the evening.

The food was pretty good. There was turkey, ham and cornish game hens, candied yams, potatoes and stuffing, gravy, cranberries, eggnog, sparkling grape juice to drink, cakes, including chocolate and cheese, and all of the usual pies like apples, pumpkin and pecan. I helped with the food by serving the turkey.

Today, Friday, there was some thought that we might have time to visit other sites before returning to the main FOB at Al Qa'im but the helos made about four trips bringing supplies of water, food, wood for construction projects, and Gatorade for the Marines at the oupost which took about five hours. After all of that was finished we loaded a bird for the flight back to Al Qa'im, returning in time for a shower and dinner. I offered Mass at 8 pm.

Sunday, November 18, 2007
4:46:38 PM EST
"Please stay, Father, we are Catholics."
Jensen from Kerala, India, works in the dining facility and reminded me last week that I had promised a few weeks ago to say Mass at his camp and so I decided to follow through tonight. After the 7 pm Mass at the chapel I loaded up my Mass kit items and walked over to the dining facility and got on the bus which transports the third country national workers back to their camp. The bus departed about 8:30 and on the way I listened to the "babel" of voices from Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, and Nepal.
I got off the bus at the camp and walked through the gate with all the workers where each of them are patted down to check for concealed items and then stopped in to meet the camp boss. One of the guys then showed me to the trailer which they use as a chapel. There was a large wooden cross with a large triple-tiered base and chairs filling the small room which perhaps can fit 30 people. I asked if I could have a table to use as an altar and two fellows went out and brought in a table and we put the big cross on it.
A Kenyan and an Indian were already seated and reading their devotions as others started to filter in for the usual 9:15 start time. As I was setting up for the Mass three Army guys walked in and one of them, a 1LT, the leader of the group, looked shocked to see me and announced that he had been coming to worship for a few weeks and had a service prepared. I told him that I had checked in with the camp boss and had arranged to say Mass and the two of us stood there, he armed with his supersize King James bible and I, vested for Mass, at a sort of standoff until I suggested he check with the camp boss to see if there was another space available.
While he went off to talk to the camp boss I started preaching about Jesus' teaching that the Church be one, as He and the Father are one, and it is a scandal that Christians cannot worship together such that we were seeking to find separate places. The 1LT returned with the news that he had obtained permission to use the dining hall for his service and asked who was Catholic and wanted to stay with me and who wanted to go with him. So, there we were, two Americans trying to divide this group that started out, in truth, more together than apart. There was no perceptible responsein the group to this invitation to split them up. Perhaps after my preaching they were unwilling. I then appealed to him for unity and he decided to stay. During the Mass he took a place up in the front, standing near me and facing the people. His King James Bible was of sufficent girth that it could ostensibly have been used for less than peaceful purposes, though I truly believe this Christian brother could have no such desires in his heart.
A Ugandan woman had prepared to sing so I invited her to lead us in singing two songs. Then I began the Mass and preached on the Scriptures, emphasizing Catholic teaching that the Tradition preceded the written Word; that the Word is a living Word and written down in the Bible for the purpose of being proclaimed first (and read privately second) so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church, Jesus Christ truly speaks to us when the Word is proclaimed in the assembly.
Only one of the Kenyans responded when I asked who in the group was Catholic and wanted to receive Communion. I heard plenty of prayer responses during the Mass, clueing me in that there were more than a few brothers in the group. They are so exquisitely tactful and so loathe to offend anyone that they wouldn't choose which way to go when presented with two alternatives, both of us Americans standing over them and forcing them to choose. God was no doubt laughing at the efforts to divide His people in service to Him.
When I finished Mass the 1LT asked the group to clap for me and when they finished I said please lets, instead, clap for the Holy Spirit as the glory is due to Him. While I was packing my Mass things up I heard someone go out of the chapel. The 1LT took charge again and invited the Ugandan woman back up in front to lead the singing and I sang and hummed along as some sang in Swahili while I prepared to leave. Then I walked out to go home.
Providentially, as it turns out, I left a candle in the chapel and one of the Kenyans, Edward, came running after me to return it, and then he said, "Please, Father, do not leave us, we are Catholics. I have not been to confession." I assured him that I would return next Sunday and that we should pray this week about what to do and where to meet next Sunday. I embraced him and told him he should talk to the other Catholics and organize the group for next Sunday. Then as I walked further, I saw there was another Kenyan named Daniel waiting for me who said he too was Catholic and also asking me to come back. No doubt it was Daniel who had slipped out of the chapel so that he could speak to me in private, a Nicodemus seeking to meet under cover of dark. I blessed him with the sign of the cross on his forehead and said we would work together to build up the flock of the Lord, to prevent the scattering of the flock. I'm committed now; they won me over.
I went on this mission tonight trusting in the Lord to reward me for the effort. I was determined to do this Mass for Him, because it is His will, and not for human respect or gratification. My efforts for Him did not go unrewarded. He spoke to me through these Kenyan brothers and rewarded me as I knew He would. After the difficulty of the event what a beautiful surprise for these two to wait for me in the cold, and follow after me, begging, "Please stay, we are Catholics".
Thank you, Jesus, for your love for us. Thank you for the gift of your Church in which we find You all over the world, no matter how far from family and all that is familiar. Jesus, stay with us. Never leave us.

Saturday, November 10, 2007
5:01:31 AM EST
"Pray always...
Donna Hernandez, director of religious education at the Church of St. Andrew in Stuart, Florida, wrote to ask how she and the children of the parish could help. I invited her to begin with prayer.
First of all, ask the children in our religion classes to pray for the Marines and Sailors and others who face the wolves of the false "gospel" out here that tell them they do not need the Mass and the sacraments, the false gospel that separates them from Christ and his Church, Christ IN His Church.

The attractive gospel of "less" often preached in this environment, rather than the true Gospel of MORE, which is taught by the Holy Spirit in His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, is tempting because it appeals to our false culture of the superficial, the commitment-phobic, the fear of giving myself because I do not trust the ONE who demands all I have to give. God never asks us to give anything without promising to give us infinitely in return. For He always gives Himself!

Our Catholic Christian service members who sometimes have weak faith when they deploy away from home are encouraged to lapse into spiritual laziness and lose a desire to pray, to be near and love Christ in the Bible and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, to celebrate the holy Mass each Sunday with faith, hope and love.

To all of our friends who ask "How can I help?" this is the first answer, the answer that Christ gives to all of us who ask, "What can I do, Lord?" He answers, "pray always, and never lose heart." When we see others in need our first impulse should be prayer, and the waiting in silence that is sometimes necessary so that the Lord can show us what He wants us to do. In this way our actions will truly reflect His divine will and our efforts will bear fruit that will last - the salvation of souls.

"Wait for the Lord with courage - be stouthearted and wait for the Lord". Our waiting is to be a fruitful, an active, waiting: sincere prayerfulness that engages our intellect and will.

Please first pray and then, if there is more that we must do, the Lord will show us the way.

Bless you,
Father

Wednesday, November 7, 2007
4:47:28 PM EST
"Restore our fortunes, O Lord...
...like the torrents in the southern desert." The serpentine of the fabled Euphrates River stretches away to the horizon where it meets Haditha Dam and the lake spilling away above it to east and west in this view from the tail of our Osprey on the journey back to Al Asad.

Saturday, November 3, 2007
3:37:32 PM EDT
Haditha: "I looked and behold, a great multitude...
...standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, crying out 'Salvation belongs to our God'." All Hallows' Eve with HM1 Paquette, HN Rodriguez, Lcpl Franco, Lcpl Powe, HN Robinson, Lcpl Rotter, Sgt Vazquez, HM2 Cabello, and Cpl Swabick who has a copy of the "Sunday Celebrations" rites book and training for the gathering of the church each week to worship on the Lord's day.
I travelled by convoy on Wednesday from Haditha dismounting along the way to meet another convoy sent from Haqliniyah to transport me and my RP. As I walked between vehicles I noted the locals milling about the streets, children playing, men walking about at their errands. En route from one vehicle to the other I waved to a child peeking from his front door and called out the Arabic greeting "Marhaba" and his mother, standing close behind him, smiled as she closed the door. This journey included stops at Haditha Dam, Haditha City and Haqliniyah. The church at the Dam has been meeting for weeks now to celebrate Sundays but work was needed to train and equip the faithful at Haditha and Haqliniyah so that the flock at each place can begin to convene for the Lord's Day on a regular basis. For this, Catholic leaders had to be identified and training given.
Sunday Celebration books are on the way from St Philip the Apostle where a special collection last weekend enabled Fr Hahn, our pastor, to purchase ten copies. Thank you, St. Philip's!

Monday, October 29, 2007
10:59:38 AM EDT
"I have come to light a fire..."
...and how I wish it were already blazing." Sent forth after holy Mass to set the world on fire with the truth and love of Christ at Camp Korean Village near the Syrian border. From left: Ugandan Peterson Ndugwa, Fr Cusick, PFC Louie Madrid, Lcpl Miguel Trejo, Spc Christie Volk, LCDR Michael Lettiere and CDR Warren Gilbert, our musician. The church at "KV" meets on Thursdays to pray the rosary in common and on Sundays to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word assisted by SSG Doane.

Saturday, October 20, 2007
3:20:30 PM EDT
"Feed my sheep."
Gathering the flock from the hills and dry desert places where they have been scattered at COP Rawah. Left: Gathered for the "breaking of the bread and the prayers" are, from left, your journal author, lay leader LT Motz, Specialist Michael Parks, Chaplain Griffith, Chaplain Drake, Cpl Bermudez and RP1 Zurek. Right: Corporal Maloney of Annapolis, MD, receives study materials in preparation for his first confession and Communion.

Sunday, October 14, 2007
8:57:34 AM EDT
Returning to give thanks: the Lord's Day at Al Asad
"Rise and go your way; your faith had made you well." (Lk 17, 19) Left: After holy Mass, 1900 at Ripper Chapel; our group included Philippino and Lebanese faithful. Right: The faithful Marines and Sailors of the air wing at Gargoyle Chapel after holy Mass at 1300.

Saturday, October 13, 2007
3:00:13 PM EDT
"Go, your faith has saved you!"
Can you tell we just met Christ in His word and His Eucharist? The smiles of these Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen show that the Lord has prepared us to go forth again to bring the Gospel of peace to our neighbors. Southside Chapel Mass, 1330 today.

Friday, October 12, 2007
1:45:39 PM EDT
Covering the bases at Al Asad
I'm back at base after yesterday's convoy from MHC. We retraced our steps, convoying south along the east bank of the Euphrates beginning yesterday about midday and arrived at Al Asad in early afternoon. No unusual events along the way. I was in the lead vehicle which made the ride somewhat stop and go. The convoy cannot proceed until all opposing traffic pulls off onto the shoulder with the nose of the vehicle pointing away from the road and the occupants out of the vehicle. It is the responsibility of the Marines in the first vehicle to get the attention of the drivers and ensure compliance so the rest of the convoy can proceed. It was a stimulating ride with the siren, the Marines talking, a warning flare fired off at one point and the uncertain atmosphere that prevailed until it became clear that the motorists intended to comply with the instructions. It gets a little hairy when two young Iraqi hotrods are speeding helter skelter and have to pull off quickly just feet from where a little girl is standing on the shoulder waving to the convoy. Thank the Lord for good brakes! We turned west away from the Euphrates and rose up out of the river valley into arid and barren land. Before too long the desert monotony was interrupted by the appearance of the defensive barriers and roads of Al Asad.
I offered the daily Mass at mainside chapel today where one of those attending was a former seminarian at the North American College and is now an Army MP. I also visited and anointed a Marine who is waiting for a "painful episode" to pass. She should be better soon
Fr Barrett, who usually covers Al Asad while I travel to outlying bases, is away for R and R leave for about 20 days so I am covering his weekend schedule at the three chapels at Al Asad beginning this weekend. I don't play guitar as Fr Barrett does so the faithful will be introduced to my a cappella style.

Monday I'll be off again on another trip.

Thursday, October 11, 2007
8:47:00 AM EDT
More travels in West of Euphrates
Top: We gathered around the Lord on the evening of 11 October at COP MHC.
Bottom:Over 30 of America's greatest after Mass at COP 1. So many faithful I couldn't get them all in this shot; we should have this problem all the time. "See Ma? I did go to Mass!"

Sunday night flew to Hit forward operating base (FOB). Monday morning offered Mass at the FOB for the CO and about ten Marines then covoyed to a COP (combat outpost) and offered Mass again soon after arriving for about 5 Marines. We were preapring to depart on our morning convoy Monday when the FOB got a call about an unexploded artillery round discovered in a nearby town by some local Iraqis. We got a last minute change in our mission. We escorted the explosive ordnance disposal techs to the town, where they picked up the round. Then we travelled back out of the town to open desert where the EOD team exploded the round: BOOM. To say the least...

While we were stopped in the town I got a good close up view of Iraqi life from my HMMWV window. A butcher was cleaning the carcass of a sheep hanging by a large hook in front of his shop. He hung a wet cloth over the meat to keep the flies off. A couple of other sheep were tethered to the porch waiting their turn for the knife. Kids were playing in the street, running back and forth to get a good look at the Marines and their vehicles, fascinated by the close-up view of war machines that most other boys can only see in pictures. Other men were seated, relaxing in front of shops watching the show, while others strolled around on their errands, some in the traditional dishdash and others in western garb.

On Tuesday convoyed four times, offering Mass at a couple of places. I was pumped when I had over 30 Marines at Mass at COP 1. Made it all worth it. Can't imagine how much their parents and families love them, but know it's lots. I challenged them to accept the Faith for themselves, explaining that it is not enough to be Catholic simply because their parents are Catholic. I also invited them to challenge the Faith, to overcome their fear of asking questions because Christ is the Truth and there is no problem or question He cannot handle.

In the evening I went along on a convoy mission into town to drop off some local Iraqi men. The CO wanted to get them back home before dark so they could take care of their families. When my HMMWV stopped I took a picture of the young boys who were swarming our vehicle, giving the thumbs-up sign and hoping the Marines would toss them candy. I visited Marines located at the COP located inside the town with views of a bridge over the Euphrates and a blue-domed Mosque. Some of the Marines ordered dinner cooked by the locals: roasted whole chicken and sausages with roasted vegetables all served up together in a piece of flat bread. Not so very different from home food.

Wednesday I arrived at Cop MHC, built to house Iraqi families of military posted at Al Asad air base. Met with a Marine who wants to become Catholic to begin his instruction and offered Mass in the evening for about 11 Marines and Sailors. Later I relaxed with 5 Marines at a game of dominoes and some laughter. Guess who won?
Another convoy tomorrow.

- Fr Cusick in Babylon

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