Thursday, November 23, 2017

(197) PUT THANKS BACK INTO THANKSGIVING DAY: History; Count Your Blessings Before Eating the Turkey

       Happy Turkey Day!  What?  You’re kidding me!  That’s crazy… if that dead bird is happy.  In many of our public schools our kids learn that the pilgrims had a feast to thank the Indians for their help.  Like Christmas, our secular society is losing the meaning of Thanksgiving, not even saying grace before the feast with family.  A good practice is to begin the day with a Mass of Thanksgiving and at the family feast, have each person around the table, especially each child say what he or she has to be thankful for.

     Yes, the Indians were invited to the first thanksgiving feast to celebrate the first harvest with gratitude to Providence in October 1621 because God used them to help the Pilgrims survive and establish themselves.  Yes, they ate turkey because that was common wild game of the time and even today in our Gallia County.  May we relive that feast of gratitude with our families.

Let’s go into the real story of Thanksgiving Day.  It’s really a story of hardship and trust in God’s providence……..that He will provide.

    In 1534 King Henry VIII renounced the authority of the Pope and declared himself to be the head of the Church in England.  After his death in 1547, his successors, including his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603), continued in that mode.  However, there were groups that thought that the Church of England was too Catholic.  The Puritans wanted to purify the Church.  

     Another group thought that the Church was beyond repair and separated to start a new church, simpler and less structured like the first Christians, but it was illegal to belong to any church outside of the Church of England.  Catholics were viciously persecuted.  Perceived as a threat, these Separatists were harassed, fined, or jailed.  After two failed attempts, they fled this persecution to more tolerant and liberal Holland.  After 12 years, they were becoming absorbed into the Dutch culture and began to lose their English heritage.  With a war looming with Spain, they decided to move to the New World.

        With the help of an investing company, the Pilgrims started out with two ships, but had to turn back twice and finally abandon the leaky Speedwell.  They finally started again in the Mayflower with 102 passengers on September 3, 1620 and sailed for 66 difficult days, arriving close to winter on November 11 near Cape Cod.   

The Mayflower Compact

                             There the men signed the Mayflower Compact as a charter for democratic community government.  On December 16 they finally found Plymouth Rock to be suitable for settlement.  The people lived on the ship off of the salty food on board while constructing cabins on shore.  Having inadequate food and deficient shelter from the cold and wet weather, caught scurvy and pneumonia.  Half of them died; imagine how their faith was put to the test.  Only 52 of the original 102 passengers survived the first year.  They called themselves pilgrims since they completed a long journey for spiritual purposes…….to practice their religion in freedom.
Reproduction of a pilgrim settlement at the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA
       God sends Squanto as His instrument.  God allowed the Pilgrims to suffer to test and build their faith while bringing them closer to Him.  All the while and years before their voyage, God had a plan to provide for His people.  For years English traders dealt with the Indians in the fur trade in New England.   In 1612 a Captain Hunter kidnapped a 12 year old boy, named Squanto, with several others and threw them onto the ship.  He sold them as slaves in Malaga, Spain.  Little did the boy Squanto know that God, about whom he knew nothing about, had given him a special mission as He has given to each one of us.  We shall see how God made good out of evil. 

Squanto was sold to an order of monks in Spain and lived with them, learning about the faith and becoming a Catholic.  Yearning for home after three years, the monks helped him to get to England, where he could board a ship to America.  Waiting for the opportunity, Squanto worked as a stable boy for three more years, becoming fluent in English.  Finally his prayers were answered and he was hired as a translator on a ship headed for the New World.  Lo and behold he ended up in Massachusetts, very close to where he was raised.  Squanto found his native village, but discovered that everyone was wiped out by Smallpox.  First he lived with a neighboring tribe and then by himself.


   In the Spring of 1621 Squanto stumbled upon the Pilgrim settlement. The settlers were flabbergasted; out of the woods came an Indian  who spoke perfect English!  The Lord was with the Pilgrims all the time!  Squanto grew up in the area where the Pilgrims settled and knew the land.   Coincidence?   Since his people were gone, the Pilgrims became his family.  Squanto taught them how to plant corn, catch eels from the streams, lobsters and fish from the ocean.  

      God had a special mission for Squanto years before and prepared him for it…….to help the Pilgrims to adapt to a new and strange land. Furthermore, Squanto helped the Pilgrims to befriend neighboring tribes of Indians.   At the end of the Summer they had a bountiful harvest.  The 53 pilgrims celebrated with 90 of their Wampanoag Indian friends for three days in October 1621 and thanked God for His providence. 

Thanking God has been part of our national fabric throughout our nation’s history.  The very first  Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in 1565 in San Augustine, Florida with a Mass said by Fr. Francisco Lopez  at the site of the present Cathedral Basilica after the first settlers led by  Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed.  

While the British occupied the national capital at Philadelphia the Continental Congress issued the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving on November 1,1777 to be observed on December 18 from its temporary location in York, Pennsylvania (See Appendix I).  Concurrently, General George Washington, leader of American forces, proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving in December of that same year as a celebration of the October 17 defeat of the British at Saratoga in upper state New York (see  It was the turning point of the Revolutionary War since it gave France the confidence to help.  Colonel Tadeusz KoĹ›ciuszko, a hero of both the United States and Poland, designed the fortifications (see

In the middle of the Civil War after the victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham proclaimed a Day of National Thanksgiving, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863 and it became an annual tradition, something that most countries do not have (see Appendix II).  When there are five Thursdays in  November, Congress settled on the fourth Thursday in 1942.  Now you know the rest of the Thanksgiving story…….not really a holiday, but a holy day.

Knowing the real story of Thanksgiving, let’s bring God back to Thanksgiving.  Make the day live up to its name.  Thank the Lord at Mass in the morning.  Eucharist does come from the Greek which means thanksgiving.  Watch some football and thank the Lord at dinner.
What do we have to be thankful for?  THINK! Everything ultimately comes from God……..our health, our talents, our skills, our knowledge, our education, our wealth, our possessions, our homes, our food, our parents, our family, our Church, our friends, answered prayer, etc.  Thanksgiving is a very important component of prayer, which may also include adoration (praise), confession (repentance), supplication (petition), meditation, and spiritual reading.

How about if things aren’t going well for you?  St. Paul reminds us: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thess. 5:16-18) because it will ultimately lead to our good.  That’s the mystery of the cross.  God will make good out of a current setback, illness, injury, accident, problem, difficulty, etc.  He will provide.  That’s where TRUST comes in.  Humbly accepted and offered up to the Lord through Mary for the conversion of sinners, crosses will make saints out of us and bring us closer to God. “For those who love God all things work together unto good” (Romans 8:28).

The top 30 thanksgiving verses in the Bible can be found at Our Lord taught thanksgiving in the Gospels as (Luke 17:11-19). As you put your head on the pillow each night, examine your day and think of things that you can thank God for.

Other Sources

Appendix I

November 1, 1777 Thanksgiving Proclamation

The committee appointed to prepare a recommendation to the several states, to set apart a day of public thanksgiving, brought in a report; which was taken into consideration, and agreed to as follows:

Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the
superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.

Appendix II

October 3, 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln

This is the proclamation which set the precedent for America's national day of Thanksgiving. During his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders similar to this. For example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln on September 28, 1863, urging him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." She explained, "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution."

Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states. President Lincoln responded to Mrs. Hale's request immediately, unlike several of his predecessors, who ignored her petitions altogether. In her letter to Lincoln she mentioned that she had been advocating a national thanksgiving date for 15 years as the editor of Godey's Lady's Book. George Washington was the first president to proclaim a day of thanksgiving, issuing his request on October 3, 1789, exactly 74 years before Lincoln's.

The document below sets apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary how he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

(196) MARINE LT. FR. VINCENT CAPODANNO: the Grunt Padre's Heroism and Holiness on the Battlefield in Vietnam Earned Him the Congressional Medal of Honor---- Beyond the Call of Duty


      Part of an Italian-American family of 12, Vincent Capodanno’s vocation was developing through high school on Staten Island, NY and Fordham University as well as a regular at daily Mass.  God was persistent in His call and finally, giving the Lord his “fiat” (yes), he joined the Maryknoll Fathers in Maryknoll, NY in 1949 and was ordained in 1958 as a Maryknoll missionary as part of a class of 48.  It was a time of an abundance of vocations in the American Church.  Maryknoll had a minor seminary (high school) at the time and still has a major seminary for both Philosophy and Theology.  Today each ordination class hovers around five.  
The newly Fathers of Maryknoll, Class of 1958.  A friend of mine from the Class of 1961 hardly knew Fr. Vincent Capodanno.  He did not stand out.  Nobody would have guessed at the time that some day he would be a war hero and some day, a saint.  Fr. Capodanno is circled in the upper right.
         The newly ordained priest was sent to school to learn Chinese as part of his assignment in Taiwan, an anti-communist island nation off the coast of mainland China.  While doing parish work, teaching native catechists, distributing food and medicine, and directing a youth hostel, Fr. Vincent felt called to something else.

       The Vietnam War was raging and his upbringing during World War II (born in 1929) made him very patriotic.  Replying to the great need for Catholic chaplains (today the need is even more urgent), he obtained permission from his superiors to volunteer as a Marine chaplain in 1965.  After finishing the tough Officer Candidates School and being commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain’s Corps during Holy Week of 1966, he was assigned as a chaplain of a Marine battalion.
Fr. Vincent lived the life of the marine grunt in the hot and humid jungle……eating and sleeping under the same conditions.  Wherever his men went, he went and shared their burdens.  He established makeshift libraries for the men and even organized outreach programs for the local villagers.  His Maryknoll training convinced him of the importance of considering the welfare of the people, understanding them and their culture……..Fr. Vincent had the heart of a missionary.

Fr. Vincent Capodanno ministers and prays with his troops before a combat mission.

He spent hours counseling and reassuring the weary and disillusioned, consoling the grieving, hearing confessions, instructing converts, and saying Mass with all his heart with such grace, intensity, and love on improvised altars in combat zones.  Reflecting his devotion to the Christ bearer and patron of those on a journey, he distributed St. Christopher medals.  He always had something for the men……cigarettes, candy, a cold soda or a book from his reading library.
Christmas in Vietnam with Fr. Capodanno and the troops.
      According to Fr. Daniel Mode in his well researched book, “The Grunt Padre”, “No problem was too large or too small to take to Father Vincent---- he was available to them day and night."  He was a true father to young boys thrust into the terrifying reality of battle, giving them comfort and guidance.  He shared his salary and rations with anyone in need. When Christmas came around and soldiers felt forgotten, Father Vincent saw to it that no Marine was without gifts which he obtained from friends and organizations.  His granting of General Absolution before battle unburdened the consciences of the Marines and instilled in them the courage to fight.  His mere presence in a unit gave comfort and lifted morale.  His love for the men showed in his devotion to them and in the relevance and simplicity of his homilies on a basic level.

When men died, he was at their side so they would not die alone, giving them the last rites, encouraging them to repent and persevere.  In addition, he wrote countless letters of personal condolence to parents of wounded and dead Marines, also offering solid grounding and hope to those who lost friends.  He comforted wounded, blessed troops, and gave Communion to Catholics, before taking off for another battle zone.  His goal was to visit each unit once a week.  He also attracted Protestants and many attended  his Masses, “giving spiritual succor to all” according to Lt. Frederick Smith.  Cpl. Bill Kuffrey noted: “I am not a Catholic, but this man of God meant more to me than I ever could have imagined.  He inspired me in so many ways, in my times of need.”

Fr. Vincent Capodanno in front of his makeshift chapel.
According to one account, two men were lost crossing a jungle stream.  Fr. Capodanno took it on himself to find the drowned men and the Lord guided him to them.  He gave the men the last rites and brought them back.

       Fr, Vincent would attend intelligence briefings and find out from friends in Intelligence which unit would most likely encounter the heaviest enemy contact and then make it a point to accompany them.  He would simply hop onto the helicopter without even bothering to obtain formal permission.  Refusing to carry a rifle or even a pistol as a priest, a soldier was assigned to protect him against his will.

The grunts welcomed his presence and positive influence as a source of strength.  It sometimes helped to rally the men.  They wanted him out there.  Going from man to man, he prayed with them; assisted with first aid as necessary, encouraged, and blessed the wounded often scared even if minor; giving the last rites to the dying.  At times he would accompany the battalion commander around the perimeter and comfort the men.  He always wanted to be where the action was and was most needed whether a patrol or the battalion.

According to Capt. Richard Alger, Fr. Vincent was a man the men could relate to and depend on.  He even ministered in the Officers Club over a drink or a cigarette.
Fr. Capodanno’s first tour was so fulfilling that he volunteered for another one year tour in June 1967.  Even during his home leave, he longed to be with his men.  He loved them with the zeal of bringing the Lord and His compassion to them.

       On September 4 fifty years ago he was accompanying the men of the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment on the Operation Swift Offensive in the Queson Valley.  Ambushed by 2500 men of the 2nd NVA Division and outnumbered five to one on Hill 51, Fr. Capodanno was like a ray of hope in the midst of the storm with its yelling and screaming; he went up and down the line encouraging, caring for the wounded, and anointing the dying.  Cpl. Ray Parkins recalled that when he was wounded, Fr. Vincent laid hands on his head and blessed him.
During the fierce fighting, the grunt Padre spotted a wounded corpsman unable to move after being hit by a burst of automatic fire from a machine gun nest. Fr. Capodanno ran to his aid and began to care for his wounds and used his own body to shield him.  He received 27 bullet wounds in his spine, neck, and head.  He emulated Our Lord with his love and by giving his life for his men.

    Awe inspiring is an eye witness account (see by Lt. Joseph E. Pilon, MD: “Over here [Vietnam] there is a written policy that if you get three Purple Hearts you go home within 48 hours. On Labor Day, our battalion ran into a world of trouble- when Father C. (Capodanno) arrived on the scene; it was 500 Marines against 2500 North Vietnamese Army Regulars. Needless to say, we were constantly on the verge of being completely overrun and the Marines on several occasions had to advance in a retrograde movement. This left the dead and wounded outside the perimeter as the Marines slowly withdrew. Casualties were running high and Father C. had his work cut out for him. Early in the day, he was shot through the right hand which all but shattered his hand.  One corpsman patched him up and tried to med evac him, but Father C declined, saying he had work to do. A few hours later, a mortar landed near him and left his right arm in shreds hanging from his side. Once again, he was patched up and once again he refused evacuation. There he was, moving slowly from wounded to dead to wounded using his left arm to support his right as he gave absolution or Last Rites, when he suddenly spied a corpsman get knocked down by the burst of an automatic weapon. The corpsman was shot in the leg and couldn't move and understandably panicked. Fr. C. ran out to him and positioned himself between the injured boy and the automatic weapon. Suddenly, the weapon opened up again and this time riddled Father C. from the back of his head to the base of his spine- and with his third Purple Heart of the day- Father C. went home.”  A pall of deep sadness descended over the entire regiment.

      Cpl. Richard L. Kilgore relates: “I was Fr. Capodanno’s aide for a period of time in Vietnam with Henry Hernandez.  I have never met a man in my life time like Fr. Capodanno--- it was like he had an aura around him (others noticed it as well).  I knew during the tough times in Vietnam God was with him.”  He epitomized the Marine motto, “Semper Fidelis” in being faithful to the end.  The men, including a Protestant chaplain called him a saint.  Jerry Bain of Pt. Pleasant, WV confirmed to me that the men loved him and held him in such high esteem.  Lt. Col. Peter Hilgartner, his battalion commander, believed that Fr. Capodanno improved the fighting spirit of the men and called him “the finest, greatest military chaplain I ever met in my career”.

Even the Presbyterian regimental chaplain, Eli Takesian praised him: “Fr. Capodanno had deep, sad, compassionate eyes that ignited people.  He had the courage of a lion and the faith of a martyr.  He lived the Christian life.  He laid down his life for his people and changed a lot of lives.  Fr. Capodanno emulated Christ as much or more than anyone I ever knew”.  It was Rev. Takesian who gave the eulogy at Fr. Capodanno’s funeral.

Above is a statue in Staten Island, NY of Fr. Capodanno ministering to a wounded soldier.  If not Catholic, he would give a spiritual word of encouragement, “Stay calm, Marine; there will be someone soon to help us.  God is with us all today”.  If Catholic, he would give a blessing and/or absolution.

    Posthumously in 1969 Fr. Vincent was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in addition to his other medals.  The Navy commissioned a destroyer escort in 1973: the U.S.S. Capodanno in his honor. 
       In 2006 he was declared Servant of God or Venerable by the Catholic Church, the first step to canonization.  His death was followed with cures and conversions.  More detail can be found on, and  

The USS Capodanno, a destroyer escort of the United States Navy

For a fascinating history with bibliography of Catholic chaplains in the U.S. military go to  For the official Dept. of Defense Medal of Honor Citations of Fr. Joseph O’Callahan (Blog #164), Fr. Emil Kapaun (#180), Fr. Charles Watters, Fr. Angelo Liteky, and  Catholic chaplains, go to my Blog #127 “Heroic Catholic Chaplains Who Have Been Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor”.