Written by Fr. Jose Bautista-Rojas, LT, CHC, USN (photo at left)
Monday, 31 December 2007 00:21
Thank you Lord for my priesthood!
01Jan08: What am I, a priest, doing in Iraq? God brought me here to be with my Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers. I am here to bring God to them and to bring them to God. Every day is a different story.
The other day, a young Marine arrived to SSTP (Shock, Surgical and Trauma Platoon) hospital. He was so young and at the age where he was just starting to experience life. He had lost his legs from the waist down; he had a very low pulse. There was something special about his young man that made him different from every other one that arrived at the SSTP hospital up to that date. I knew him personally. He attended Mass twice a month while the other days he went on missions. It is different when you know someone personally. I still remember his face; he would ask for a blessing after each Mass. He would tell me: "Bless me, Father, I need your blessing." These are the last words that I heard from him a week ago. His words till resounded over and over in my head, "Bless me, Father." I will not give his real name out of respect for the family.
I could not control my right hand while holding Jose's, praying to God for him; my hand was shaking. In my mind, I was asking God to save Jose. I was thinking of his parents, of his brothers, of his friends, but especially of his mother. Lord, do not shatter Jose's mother's heart. Save him, Lord! Bring him back to his mother alive.
I was looking around the operating room. The doctors were speaking to Jose telling him, "Fight, do not give up, please fight!" Jose's commanding officer was at a corner of the room with tears in his eyes, looking at me as if he were asking, "Please tell God to save him!" He then would turn to the doctors as saying, "Fight for him please save him, save my Marine!" Another officer entered the room, looked carefully to the doctors and then turned to me asking me with the gesture of his hands to pray. Then, he turned to Jose's officer and greeted him as if giving his condolences.
Please Lord, save him! I prayed with all my strength while the doctors tried frantically to save his life. "He has no more pulse!" one doctor shouted, while a female doctor with her hands inside Jose's chest caressed his heart trying to revive him. After 45 minutes of massaging the heart and electrical shocks, the doctor declared him dead.
In my mind, I was praying Lord, do not allow Jose's mother to receive him without life. Looking at Jose on the stretcher, I only saw half of his body. How would his life be if he would have survived without legs and only part of his hands? I wonder if God instead of answering my prayer answered Jose's prayer. Maybe Jose was telling God, please take me with you, do not leave me here this way. I don not know; the only thing I know is that Jose will not suffer anymore.
I still hear Jose's voice when he would tell me, "Bless me, Father... Please, Father, bless me... I always tell my mom that you bless me, and she gets very happy..... My mother told me to thank you for your blessing." What will go through Jose's mother's mind? Will she be angry at God? Will she hate the Marine Corps that her son loved so much?
I wish I could tell her: "Senora, I was with your son on his last moments." My hope is that she will find some comfort in the knowledge that her son had a priest by his side in his last moments.
Jose's officer asked for my name to tell his mother that I prayer for Jose, and that he received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. I would love to look at her eyes, and let her know that I was with her son on her behalf. I would like to embrace her, and tell her that her son asked for my blessing every time he could come to Mass.
I thank God for the gift of my priesthood and to my Cardinal who allowed me to come and serve as a chaplain. I am a priest not only to celebrate Holy Mass, but also to live it. The gift of my priesthood allows me to bless and bring peace to my muchachos and muchachas, that's the way I see them as my young kids, in the midst of this war.
Please, ask God that I may never get tired of blessing those who ask and wherever they ask me. Jose would ask me to bless him in the Chapel, or while I was walking to my "Humvee" (my transportation), which would bring me to my base or where ever he would see me.
"Father would you bless me?" Who will be the next priest to hear these words? Will our young men and women in the military services have priests to come to and ask for a blessing, or to come for confession, or will they have the opportunity to attend Mass? I pray that young men and women in the military will get the spiritual guidance they need. The only way this will be possible is if more men respond to God's call to the priesthood. When the Lord asks, "Whom shall I send?" many will say "Here I am, Lord!"
Fr. Jose Bautista-Rojas, LT, CHC, USN is currently serving as a US military chaplain in Iraq. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1999, and has previously served at various parishes including St. Elizabeth Church in Van Nuys, CA.
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