An MV-22 Osprey with engines roaring waits on the flight deck for its next mission. Fueled up and pilots on station, only one more passenger needs to board: Lt. Robert J. Chapa, Roman Catholic chaplain assigned to USS Makin Island (LHD 8).
Transported by “Holy Helo,” a term used for helicopters transporting chaplains, Chapa, from Robstown, Texas, landed on the deck of USS Comstock (LSD 45) Sunday to provide Roman Catholic Sailors and Marines aboard the opportunity to attend Palm Sunday Mass.
Comstock does not have a Roman Catholic priest assigned to its chaplain department.
“One of our jobs as chaplains is to facilitate so that everybody has the opportunity to worship their specific faith,” said Cmdr. Timothy Moore, from Easley, S.C., command chaplain aboard Makin Island.
There are two chaplains on Comstock, two on USS San Diego (LPD 22), and Makin Island has four. Lt. Chapa is the only Roman Catholic priest in the entire ARG.
“There are only 48 Roman Catholic priests currently serving as active duty chaplains in the Navy, so we’re spread out thin,” said Chapa. “That’s why it’s important that I go out to other ships to provide that service.”
Upon arrival on Comstock, Chapa and his assistant, Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Paul M. Ludlam, from Dearborn, Mich., wasted no time preparing the chapel on board for service.
Moore also said that moving forward into deployment, he would like to get Chapa out to each of the ships in the ARG at least once a month to minister and perform services.
“He’s an excellent priest,” said Moore. “I am very pleased with Father Chapa’s willingness to be able to do exactly what our mission is as chaplains. He’s called to serve and is willing to serve. It’s important for everybody to have an opportunity to worship.”
The service lasted roughly 45 minutes and was given to approximately 20 Sailors and Marines collectively aboard Comstock.
Sailors aboard Comstock expressed their gratitude for Chapa’s visit.
“Father Chapa’s mass was very refreshing,” said Ship’s Serviceman 3rd Class Albert Raymond Bruan, from West Orange, N.J. “It is important to strengthen faith especially in trying times like training cycles and deployment.”
Lt. Byron T. Johnson, Chaplain aboard Comstock expressed his appreciation for the service.
“Our ship really appreciated Chaplain Chapa’s visit,” said Johnson. “We have many Catholics aboard and it is a blessing to have a priest willing to fly in to provide the religious needs of our service men and women.”
At 1 p.m. the following day, Lt. Chapa once again boarded a “Holy Helo” and left Comstock to return to Makin Island.
“I enjoyed going out to the ships. The Sailors were very welcoming,” said Chapa. “It was all good.”
Makin Island ARG is in the Amphibious Squadron Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training (PMINT) phase in preparation for its upcoming deployment.
Press Release, April 17, 2014; Image: US Navy