By David Lewellen
Thirty-six chaplains celebrated the culmination of their journey to certification at a Saturday Mass at the national conference in Arlington, VA.
“I thank God for the vocation of every single one of you,” said Bishop Donald Hying of Gary, IN, the NACC’s episcopal liaison, “but especially for those newly commissioned tonight.”
Hying told the story of his unit of CPE as a seminary student in 1987, when AIDS was new and terrifying, and an HIV-positive drug addict in a hospital told Hying his life story and asked whether God could forgive him. Impulsively, Hying said, he hugged the man, “and he said that was the first time anyone had touched him without gloves since he contracted HIV. … In that encounter, the risen Christ was present to both of us.”
“God said, ‘I want you to be my presence to the suffering and the sick,’” Hying told the chaplains. “Thank you for all that you do, and for who you beautifully are.”
Bishop Barry Knestout, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, concelebrated the Mass. Knestout serves on the NACC Episcopal Advisory Council and is the USCCB episcopal delegate to the American Catholic Correctional Chaplain Association.
After the newly certified filed across the front of the room to receive their certificates, they received congratulations from family and friends. “I was overwhelmed by the prayer and the Holy Spirit,” said Agnes Lugira of Woburn, MA. “Seeing the hands of the people stretched over us, it was very humbling.”
“It was really profound to see all these other folks who are doing it too, and to talk to them,” said Jesse Keane of Boulder, CO. “There’s something really personal about being here.”
“To be here, to see this diploma, I feel so happy,” said Fidelis Ezeani of Nyack, NY, “and very grateful to God, who made it possible.”
Reflecting on her journey, Lugira said, “As a woman, I could not be ordained, so I said I would do the most possible. I thank God for this moment, and I pray God gives me strength to do his will.”