When I first arrived at Camp As Sayliyah (CAS) in July 2010, we didn’t have a Catholic chaplain, nor did we have any type of Catholic service. A small group of us would drive from CAS about fifteen miles down the road to Al Udeid Air Base (AUAB) for Mass on Saturday nights.
In early August 2010, the new chaplain decided that he wanted to minster more effectively to the Catholic Community on CAS. So instead of us going to AUAB, he would travel to CAS to say Mass. Of course, being the sole Catholic chaplain on AUAB with a base population of around 15,000 as compared to CAS with a base population of 3,000, his weekend schedule of Masses was rather hectic. So he requested permission and received a dispensation from Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the Archbishop for the Military Services, to have Mass on Fridays, but we celebrate the Sunday observance.
At first, we were a small group of four, sometimes five people, but Fr. Mark reminded us: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Fr. Mark decided to try something different—to hold Mass in one of the dining rooms in the main dining facility. We call it the “Breakout Room.” That first Mass saw a group of twelve people! Eventually, our little congregation grew to about twenty-five, which is where it hovers to this day.
This past January we got a new chaplain. Fr. Ruben liked having all the prayers and all the acclamations, so we started reciting the Confiteor, the Gloria, and all the various responses. For the “bigger” celebrations like Ash Wednesday and the Easter Triduum, he wanted to move the celebration of Mass to the chapel. My “inner Martha” came out:
The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10: 41-42).
I complained to Fr. Ruben, “Father, people like having Mass in the dining room.” He brushed aside my concerns, saying that it would all work out. Then he added to my anxieties by putting together a list of supplies he needed for the Triduum and handing it to me. I felt a little overwhelmed. I still had my full-time job with the Installation Operations Office. But everything was provided!
When Holy Thursday arrived, I prepared the chapel for the service and practiced my music. We were going to start at 5:00 p.m. At about 4:50 p.m., there were three people sitting out in the pews. My “inner Martha” went to the sacristy to tell Father, “See? What did I tell you! We don’t even have enough people to read the Gospel account of the Passion!” He just looked at me as if to say, “Have faith.” So I went to take my seat at the keyboard, and during those last five minutes before Mass, about twentyfive people rolled in, including two families with children from the U.S. Embassy! It was a very powerful service, to have the white on the altar and to sing the Gloria after forty days without it. And my “inner Martha” transformed to an “inner Mary.”
Good Friday is always a reserved service, so somber. Thirty-three soldiers ended up attending. The big stresser for me was the Easter Vigil. But it turned out to be awesome! Yeah, we had a few “hiccups.” One of the young lieutenants who was tagged to ring the bells during the singing of the Gloria rang them during the responsorial psalm! One of our counterintelligence agents whose job was to turn on all the lights during the Gloria heard the bells ringing, so he turned on all the lights in the chapel! I looked at Father and he was smiling; he rolled his eyes at me, but didn’t stop it. After Mass, he told me it was fine.
I couldn’t help but feel an inner peace and a sense of JOY! Alleluia! I can’t explain it, but at that Easter Vigil, the “tomb” of my heart, which had been cold, stony, and DEAD, opened up, and the Risen Lord wasn’t exiting this TOMB— he was ENTERING IT! I felt joy and purpose again. The disappointments and the hurts—such as my daddy dying and being passed over for promotion—didn’t magically go away, but I could face them now with renewed strength.
Please pray for us here. We are a small island of Christianity in a sea of Islam.