Rev. Daniel R. Sweeney, SJ
Armed with the Faith
Boston College Jesuit edits prayer book for those in armed forces
By Stephen Gawlik
At a time when men and women serving in the United States military are in special need of spiritual support, a Boston College Jesuit has compiled a book of prayers and catechisms that can fit in the pocket of a battle dress uniform.
Armed with the Faith: A Catholic Handbook for Military Personnel, edited by Rev. Daniel R. Sweeney, SJ, is a 64-page waterproof booklet containing prayers, devotions, sacramental theology, catechetical information and hymns. In addition to familiar Catholic prayers, the booklet includes less well-known ones, such as the "Anima Christ (Soul of Christ)" and Saint Ignatius Loyola's prayer for generosity.
"As soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines find themselves in harm's way, we hope this book will help them to pray and provide them with spiritual help and support," said Fr. Sweeney, a fellow at the Boston College Center for Irish Programs who has served six years as a chaplain in the US Air Force Reserve.
The prayer books are provided free of charge to military personnel by the Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the US, and distributed by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.
"Priest-chaplains deployed with our forces far from home, as well as those serving our men and women here in the States, are unanimous in relating the desire of their troops to draw closer to God, inquiring into the Scriptures, the teachings and traditions of our faith the meaning and methods of prayer," said Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, archbishop of the Archdiocese for Military Services. "I am confident this handbook will be a source of prayer, information and inspiration."
The third edition of the handbook was published recently and will soon join the 200,000 copies already in circulation here and overseas, and the first Spanish language edition is now being printed.
According to its Web site, the Archdiocese for the Military Services serves 1.4 million Catholics, which includes 375,000 active duty personnel and more than 900,000 family members, plus 300,000 Catholics who are in the Army Reserve and Coast Guard, and those in government service overseas or in Veterans Administration hospitals.
Fr. Sweeney coordinated the prayer book project, working through the Knights of Columbus to identify and meet the needs of the Archdiocese for Military Services.
The spiritual necessities of so many Catholics in military settings or families was reason enough for a prayer book, said Fr. Sweeney, but events of the past few years, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as well as the increased overseas deployments and use of reservists, provided added impetus for the project.
Along with prayers, devotions, information on the Sacrament of Penance and hymns, the book offers insights into the duties a battlefield chaplain might have to perform, such as writing letters to the family of a deceased soldier. In addition, there is a brief outline of the Just War theory in Catholic tradition, featuring writings of Saint Augustine and excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
"There's been an overwhelming demand for copies and positive responses from all quarters," said Fr. Sweeney, who will soon defend his doctoral dissertation for the Faculty of History at Cambridge University. "The Knights of Columbus saw the need and an opportunity to be of service to fellow Catholics in the military."