Nurturing faith on war’s frontline

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Written by TONY ROSSI, The Christophers   
Friday, 03 August 2012 00:00
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When Cheri Lomonte was interviewing a woman whose son was serving in Afghanistan as a member of the United States Armed Forces, the radio host discovered that nine months had passed without the young Catholic soldier ever seeing a chaplain from any religious denomination. The reason, she discovered, is that there is a tremendous chaplain shortage, especially for Catholics.

For the 330,000 members of the military who declare themselves Catholic, there are only between 200 to 250 chaplains. As Ms. Lomonte explained to me during our Christopher Closeup interview, in many cases “the chaplains come in to wherever the troops are, they hear confession, they say a Mass, they give out Holy Communion. But then they’re on to the next place.” As a result, the troops often feel like they’re “forgotten.” The situation isn’t much different when it comes to Protestant troops and chaplains.

Tony RossiSome people might have heard that information, felt bad for the troops, then moved on with their lives. Not Ms. Lomonte. She grew determined to be a genuine Christopher, a Christ-bearer.

Ms. Lomonte had previously worked on a project that provided the homeless in her hometown of Austin, Texas, with mp3 players that contained Catholic content like her radio show, Mary’s Touch. The homeless, after all, needed reminders of God’s love just as much as anyone else. Why not apply the same principle to helping the troops, she reasoned.

She got groups of military people — from a new recruit to a colonel — sitting around her dining room table and asked them, “What do the men and women of our military need? What would you want to hear?” They all offered opinions, as did others when word of the project spread.

Audio of a Mass, the rosary, children reading letters of appreciation to soldiers, and stories that would nurture the troops’ faith, became part of what is now called the Frontline Faith Project which includes seven hours of material on every mp3 player. The players — which are paid for entirely by donations from the public — are distributed by chaplains when they visit with troops.

Ms. Lomonte said, “I had one [soldier] say, ‘I wake up every morning wondering if this is going to be the day [I die]. When I listen to the player, it gives me strength, it helps me relax, it’s like my best friend.’ ”

This project for Catholics eventually grew to include an interfaith aspect as well when Protestant chaplains asked Ms. Lomonte if she could create a version for them. She was happy to comply, saying, “Isn’t that a beautiful part of it? This is for everyone. We all have the same God, of Abraham and Isaac.”

At a time when many troops are returning home severely wounded physically and mentally, when the suicide rate among members of the armed forces is higher than ever, Ms. Lomonte has now been asked to grow the project further and provide the mp3 players to wounded warriors too. She is willing to do her part, but asks the public for help defraying the cost which is $24 per player. That donation can offer one service-member some much needed spiritual support.

Though Cheri has done a lot of the legwork for the Frontline Faith Project, she attributes its growth and success to a higher power: “I know this is the Holy Spirit at work.  This wasn’t on my radar. When these things come along, I think we have to respond.  As a Catholic, it’s my duty to respond and do the best job I can.”

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