Written by Mary McCusker
Every pew at Saint Joseph’s Church in Somers Point was packed on Monday, Feb. 6. Parents and their children were all there for one reason: to honor the military through spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Father Ed Namiotka, pastor, opened the event by explaining the difference between the two traditional Catholic actions, keeping even the most fidgety children engaged as he gave examples of each.
“Each and every one of us is capable of showing mercy,” he said. “The Lord has shown us mercy, and as Christians, we must show others mercy as well. And there are countless ways to do this.”
Laurel Marchesini, director of Lifelong Faith Formation at Saint Joseph Parish, took the microphone.
“Today,” she said, “we will be honoring our veterans in two ways,” she explained. “First, we will say a prayer for them. What kind of mercy would that be?” she addressed the audience.
A sea of children’s hands flew into the air to be called on, but others couldn’t resist just belting out, “Spiritual!”
“Very good,” she said. “And when we write our Valentine’s Day cards to our soldiers overseas after we pray, what kind of mercy would that be?”
None of the children bothered raising their hands this time as they all shouted out “Corporal!” in unison.
Among the attendees was guest speaker, Mark Taylor, director of Veterans’ Services at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, who spent 12 years in the Army. A round of applause erupted as Marchesini introduced him and called him to the pulpit.
“Any holiday is especially hard to be away from home when you’re overseas,” he said, “which is why every act, every donation, every prayer … it goes such a long way. You have no idea how much it means to our service men and women.”
He continued, “I would receive care packages from family and friends, but I also received donations and cards from people I didn’t know. And that too is so meaningful. It gives our military a taste of home, it reminds them that people are thinking of them, and it keeps them motivated.”
This motivation, he explained, extends to his work at Catholic Charities.
“I’m truly inspired by this parish and how many of you took the time to come here and show your support through both works of mercy,” he said to the audience, “and seeing this generosity and thoughtfulness and engagement keeps me motivated to do the best work I possibly can at Catholic Charities.”
Many families approached Taylor after his speech, asking where they can drop off donations and how they can become more involved with Catholic Charities.
“We have three retired veterans in our family,” said one woman, accompanied by her daughter, “and we want to help in any way we can.”
Several mentioned that they’ve been saving donations for the agency’s “Stand Down” event in May in Atlantic City, which will link vets to a broad array of free services and benefits, such as VA benefits, medical, mental health and addiction services, welfare benefits, legal services, housing, haircuts and clothing provisions.
After Taylor’s speech, crowds poured down into the church basement, which was set up with tables, prayer cards, markers, stickers, and paper – all for the families to create cards for military personnel overseas. The families got to work immediately, fastidiously creating Valentine’s Day cards.
Many of the attending families have family and friends who are currently serving overseas.
One child proudly held up her final product – a folded pink construction paper, covered with drawings, a prayer card, and a hand-written note. “This is for my daddy,” she said, “but I think I need to add more stickers.”