Combat-tested chaplain comes to area to help faithful fight battle against evil

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By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

FALL RIVER, Mass. — The origin of Lent is found in the desert where Christ battled the temptations of the devil for 40 days, in preparation for the Savior’s ministry to save mankind from the snare of sin.

Today’s faith challenges are no less difficult to bear — not without help from brothers and sisters in the faith.

On Monday, a U.S. Army chaplain, Father Paul Halladay, a priest of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala., and a veteran of the conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan, will use his experience as a priest and a soldier to assist area faithful in Spiritual combat against evil in a four-day Lenten mission encompassing five Fall River area churches.

“God wants to do something very special for each and every one who attends the mission, even if only in part,” Father Halladay told The Anchor. “He wants your celebration of Easter, the celebration of His Son’s triumph over sin and death, to be the most fulfilling you’ve ever experienced. This mission has that as its objective, to deeply enrich and fortify your Lenten preparation so that this celebration of Easter gives Glory to God like it never has before. A tall order indeed. I am humbled to think that I should be a part of that and immeasurably grateful for the opportunity.”

The mission, which begins at 7 p.m. each night, commences March 9 at St. Bernadette’s Church, 529 Eastern Avenue, Fall River. The following three sessions are March 10 at St. Bernard Church, 32 South Main Street, Assonet; March 11 at St. Michael Church, 189 Essex Street, Fall River; and concludes March 12 at St. Anthony of the Desert Church, 300 North Eastern Avenue, Fall River.

Several priests will be available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation from 6-6:45 p.m. each night. A shorter version of the mission talk will be given each day as the homily at the 12:05 p.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 327 Second Street in Fall River.

Father Halladay was invited by Father Roger J. Landry, former pastor of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River, now working for the Church at the United Nations in New York City. The two were classmates at The North American College in Rome.

Father Halladay’s path to the priesthood and military were leaps of faith based on prayer and faith in what God was calling him to do.

Led by the Holy Spirit, Father Halladay answered the call to enter the seminary and discern a calling to the priesthood, “not without much prayer” he said. “I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the West Indies. A freewheeling, laid-back, easy-going Caribbean lifestyle is difficult competition for the sacrificial life of a priest in the mind and heart of a 25-year-old young man. However, I came from a very practicing Catholic family in Alabama. We attended daily Mass and I kept this up even through college and while in the Peace Corps. I know the example of my parents in this regard had a lot to do with my considering the priesthood seriously as it was always understood in my family (more implicitly than explicitly) that this was a legitimate, honorable, valid and laudable life choice.”

The military aspect of Father Halladay’s ministry was totally unexpected. “I requested to participate in the Army’s chaplain candidate program in my last summer of seminary,” he told The Anchor. “It was only because I had not planned anything, the opportunity for the chaplain candidate program was available and I needed to do something, that I went to my archbishop and requested the Army chaplain candidate summer program. I had no intention, at that time, to pursue Army chaplaincy, it was simply something to do over a summer while still a seminarian.” 

Father Halladay was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Mobile in 2000.

Shortly after Father Halladay approached his archbishop to discuss the possibility of entering the Army Reserves. “He said, ‘Not right now’ so I held off for another year, to see if I still had the desire,” said Father Halladay. 

He tried again at a later time and received the same response.

After the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on 9/11/2001, Father Halladay again approached his archbishop, this time with the request to become an active duty Army chaplain. “I felt that if this was indeed the Holy Spirit prompting me to pursue this ‘calling within a calling’ that I needed to do so and be ‘all in’ so to speak,” he explained. “I had already said to myself that if my archbishop ever says no that would be the end of my asking. By requesting active duty status over the reserves, I was considerably ‘upping the ante’ and providing my archbishop with every reason to say no. To my surprise, he said yes. Given my persistence, and the development of our nation’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, in 2004 he gave me permission to go to the Army chaplaincy.”

After completing his training, Father Halladay served in various capacities in the U.S., Iran and Afghanistan, on loan from the Archdiocese of Mobile. He received a Bronze Star for exceptional service in Iraq and once pulled several of his comrades to safety after the truck in which they were traveling was attacked by a suicide bomber.

Father Halladay told The Anchor that his ministry differs somewhat with deployed soldiers and those in the homeland. “So, the importance of a chaplain, particularly when in garrison and not deployed, is somewhat minor,” he said. “As part of the Commanders Special Staff, however, we advise him or her on issues of morale, and religious accommodation needs for soldiers, we are usually the go to person for the Army’s required twice annual Suicide Prevention Training and Sexual Harassment Training. We also spend a lot of time counseling soldiers on issues ranging from professional difficulties as a soldier to family life issues and we generally make sure that in the planning of training and field exercises the needs of the soldiers, Spiritual and corporal, are duly considered.”

When deployed to the Middle East, the soldiers’ views of a chaplain become more intense. “When deployed, the chaplain becomes a real source of morale boosting,” Father Halladay told The Anchor. “At the very least, we break up the routine and provide some diversion, but at our best we are there when things are at their worst. As my first commander with the 1-506th, Colonel Ron Clark, once said, ‘When things are bad, you call for the medic, when things are really bad, you call for the chaplain.’”

Father Halladay sees a parallel with military life and the lives of everyday faithful. In the military, he said, “It’s a fight, constituted of mostly long moments of boring, same old, day-to-day routine and then unexpectedly punctuated with intense fighting. If you’ve let yourself grow lazy, complacent, inattentive to details during the long moments of lull, when it’s time to spring into action, to respond to a situation, an attack, well you could get yourself and others killed.”

He likened that to our Spiritual lives. “We can find church boring, the same old routine, we can let our personal prayer life flag and keep no good watch for potential dangers — near occasions of sin — as one version of the Act of Contrition puts it,” he continued. “Well, that’s how deadly sin gets into your life, and if you’re not careful, that deadly sin can become a habit and then perhaps even an addiction. In some cases the ‘flash to bang’ of sin to addiction can be swift indeed. Life is a constant battle against these forces that have an effect on our corporal as well as our Spiritual lives.”

Father Halladay said the compendium of Catholic saints is “filled with soldiers, even some chaplains,” including St. Francis of Assisi, with the Crusading chaplains; and St. John of Capistrano, another military chaplain.

He said of the sainthood causes of more recent military chaplains — Servants of God Fathers Vincent Capodanno and Emil Kapaun — “It would be a marvelous grace and blessing indeed to have these two American priests and chaplains canonized as saints. I think, too, it would spur a deeper interest in Catholicism within the military and amongst a population that does not have a solid understanding of faith and religion and their importance in our lives.”

With 15 years experience as a Catholic priest and 11 years as a Catholic Army chaplain, Father Halladay’s upcoming Lenten Mission in the Fall River area should prove to be unique, inspiring, and helpful in the day-to-day fight against evil of any type.

“I would like to convey my sincere thanks and gratitude for this opportunity and ask for the prayers from the faithful of the Fall River Diocese as I continue to prepare for this mission,” said Father Halladay. Helping to enrich and fortify people’s Lenten preparation to celebrate God’s glory at Easter in a more special way, Father Halladay told The Anchor, “I am humbled to think that I should be a part of that and immeasurably grateful for the opportunity.”

The mission is free of charge. On each mission night, the hosting parish will have a free reception in the respective parish halls. For more information, contact any of the participating parishes. 

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