That sums up the unusual resume of Sgt. Neil McCabe. Boston’s diocesan newspaper The Pilot has more:
While Sgt. Neil W. McCabe was prepared for the blazing temperatures and the dusty, dry conditions which are part of the arid desert climate in Iraq, deployment has brought him an unexpected challenge — the struggle to receive the sacraments.
McCabe, a Pilot reporter on active duty with the Army military leave, has gone from suburban Massachusetts, where it is easy to receive the sacraments, to Iraq, where attending Sunday Mass and receiving other sacraments has been a challenge at times.
Though sometimes travel and other obligations keep service members from participating in the sacraments, many times the problem is that there are simply too few priests to go around.
“As a Catholic soldier in Iraq, it’s very painful when you arrive at the chapel to realize that there is no priest because the priest is somewhere else,” said McCabe, speaking to The Pilot while home on leave in late September.
For McCabe, it’s quite a change from life in the Boston area, with its large Catholic population.
“I’ve never in my life had to deal with a situation where there are no priests. It’s something you hear about in missionary countries,” he said.
“It’s something you would read about in a history book,” he said.
Chaplains are responsible for meeting the spiritual needs of military personnel, ministering to those within and out of their own respective denominations. Catholic chaplains perform the same ministries that any priest does in serving his congregation, including saying Mass, hearing confessions, administering the anointing of the sick, and counseling.
McCabe said sometimes senior officers may lead liturgies of the word when a priest is not available. Other times, Catholic service members have to settle for attending Mass whenever they can, even if it is not Sunday.
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