By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 5, 2012
In a heartfelt and touching effort, parishes from the North Metro Deanery of the Archdiocese of Atlanta came together to host a “Welcome Home Veterans” day to show appreciation for the service provided by members of the various U.S. military branches.
Held at St. Peter Chanel Church on June 23, the purpose of the event was to provide enthusiastic gratitude to former and current military members, while also providing support in the many struggles soldiers face upon their return to civilian life. Some 50 people attended.
Present at the event were veterans from nearly every war or conflict since the mid-20th century, including World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, among others. A flag representing each branch was arranged on the stage. Several displays by North Metro Deanery parishes also provided information on services offered by parish support groups.
“It’s something special, the bond” between soldiers, said Victor Ojeda, a retired Army veteran who attends St. Andrew Church in Roswell. He was there representing the St. Andrew military support group.
Ojeda joined the Army in 1974, retiring in the early ‘90s after serving in Operation Desert Storm. Working hard to raise a family and also serve his country, Ojeda has traveled the world with the Army, stationed in Korea, Germany and many places in between. He now works to provide support for veterans and current members of the armed forces, as he knows firsthand how a little effort can go a long way.
“Without events like this, the morale wouldn’t be as high as it is,” said Ojeda. “This way, if people are going back, they go back with high spirits.”
Army chaplain Capt. Kevin Peek, a priest of the archdiocese and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, shared stories of his time in Iraq and Afghanistan, while also explaining the struggles of returning soldiers and the importance of family and community support.
“We can grow from our past experiences and apply the lessons learned to the work God has for us to do now. The challenge remains: to build the kingdom of God and rise to its defense rather than to sink into self-pity,” said Father Peek. “We can face our struggles and succumb to them or we can rise above and transform them.”
Father Joseph Peek, older brother of Father Kevin Peek, also served as a speaker, focusing on the community’s role in welcoming soldiers back home and providing support as they make the often-difficult transition back to civilian life.
Before his talk, Father Peek processed in, donning monsignor garb, and performed a brief skit. In a Patton-like speech, Father Peek addressed Catholics, rallying them to fight as Catholic soldiers for the Church and their faith. The crowd responded with thunderous applause.
Returning to the stage in his normal priestly garments, Father Peek asked that family members and parishes seek to provide stability to those returning from war, as well as opportunities for them to become involved with the community, making their transition a bit easier.
“Our soldiers come back, and they are looking for a steady world. They are looking for a world that they know,” said Father Peek.
“Give them a chance to be good,” he added.
Engage them in conversation, invite them out for coffee, include them in any service-related work in which you are involved, so they can recapture their worth in the civilian world, he added.
Following lunch, there was a brief memorial ceremony for those who have died serving their country. Time for fellowship and networking followed as many people talked, sharing stories and memories and providing support. The event also gave opportunities for veterans to receive the sacraments, as confession and Mass were offered before and after the day’s planned activities.
The official theme of the event was “Perspective, Purpose, Peace.” Joe Crowley, who served as emcee, took a few moments to explain what that meant.
“The intent behind this theme is threefold,” said Crowley. “First, to help our veterans see how our Catholic faith can assist them in putting their wartime experiences into perspective. Secondly, to find something of God’s purpose in those personal experiences and what he wants each of us to do going forward. … Thirdly, through this journey to find peace for self while helping others build peace for them.”
“Again, welcome home, veterans. We thank you for your service and your sacrifices,” Crowley said.