Sunday Aboard the Kearsarge

Part III in a multi-part series about Operation Continuing Promise (Parts I, & II)
Regularly Updated Photostream Here

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us as we cry to Thee,
For all in peril on the sea.
— from the Navy Hymn

The vessel gently lolls to and fro under me. I was above deck briefly Saturday and was able to see off both sides of the ship. Water. Blue water as far as the eye can see. We saw some Dolphins jumping just off our port bow. The wind was excellent — just right to cut the humidity and intense sunlight. This ship, alone riding through these waters, carries a small city on board. Roughly 1500 men and women living — eating, sleeping, working, recreating, exercising, preparing, and praying — on this little patch of floating sovereignty somewhere southwest of Cuba.

Yesterday, Sunday, began Saturday night with a prayer of remembrance. A brief moment to memorialize a fallen comrade, Freddie Piñeda, over the 1MC (PA system). The chaplain asked for a brief moment of prayer and quoted a French Quaker, “Lord, we do not know when we shall pass from this world. We do know that we pass through it but once. Help us to make the most of this one opportunity” He closed, “May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. We ask this in Your holy Name. Amen.” I found out that Freddie, a well-liked and accomplished member of the flight deck refueling crew, had been killed in an unfortunate car accident just days ago, widowing his wife and leaving his infant son fatherless. He had just turned 21.

Sunday morning, the first of mornings, I attended a memorial service for him in the ship’s hangar bay with roughly 500 in attendance. Captain Towns, commander of the ship, challenged the assembly to consider what lesson God had intended for each of us to learn by Freddie’s passing. “I believe there are no coincidences. Everything that happens is in God’s master plan. What was Freddie here to teach us, that God could only teach us by his death?” Four sailors eulogized Freddie and shared stories of a man who was gung-ho in his job, was eager to help others, loved a good laugh, loved his family, and will be missed. The Protestant chaplain read from Ecclesiastes and focused on a few of the well-known “times.” It’s a time to gather stones — memories; a time to plant seeds — in the hearts of others to be better; a time to pluck, or harvest — look for the good things that Freddie, and others, plant in you. And he tied his meditation into the mission: this entire mission is a time to plant seeds of good will — seeds of faith in humanity and gratefulness in others’ hearts, as well as seeds of humble charity and gratefulness in our own, through the good work this mission will do.

The Gospel reading at Mass was that of Christ walking on the water. I found it the perfect passage for this Sunday, considering what Operation Continuing Promise is all about: traversing the water to bring aid and comfort to those who so desperately need it. As the Apostles were afraid when they thought it was a ghost coming toward them, some may fear us as we approach in this warship. But when they see the quality of the people on board this ship — those medical personnel who volunteered to come along, and the young, motivated sailors and Marines who will come on shore to repair, build, and even play (yes, soccer — ‘scuse me: fútbol — basketball, softball, baseball, and even cricket matches are scheduled) — their fears will be allayed.

Fifteen hundred people floating across these beautiful blue waters on a ship designed for war, but eager to use this vessel’s resources and the tons of material it carries for purposes very different indeed. More on all that soon: it’s quite an impressive array of items on board, and not all medical.

It all calls to mind the following first two verses of a hymn I’ve sung many times, also sung to the tune of the Navy Hymn:

O Father, whose creating hand
Brings harvest from the fruitful land,
Your providence we gladly own,
And bring our hymns before Your throne
To praise You for the living bread
On which our lives are daily fed.

O Lord, who in the desert fed
The hungry thousands in their need,
Where want and famine still abound
Let your relieving love be found,
And in Your name may we supply
Your hungry children when they cry.