The first time I passed this cemetery and prayed, I had to take a second look as I knew “this one was not like the others” when it came to local cemeteries—the headstones were perfectly aligned and identical to the Arlington National Cemetery. I found out that it was the Alexandria National Cemetery, which holds the remains of members of the military. There was a strange comfort knowing that some of my brothers and sisters in arms were laid to rest so close to my home. This cemetery very well could hold the remains of saints unknown to us, so I ask for their intercession. Often we struggle for a connection to loved ones who have passed. Prayer is a mode of communication that moves beyond the physical boundaries of the earth to communicate with the dead as well as ask for God’s intercession for the living.
I remember a crucial moment of my Iraq deployment. I had had a bit a rough day at work and at the end of the day found myself walking back to my room frustrated, embarrassed by my tears. In the midst of the walk, I was suddenly overcome by peace. I cannot explain how, but I felt an overwhelming assurance that I was being prayed for in that very moment. It gave me the comfort I needed in a seemingly desolate environment. Later that year upon returning home, I discovered my parents had been abstaining from alcohol the whole time I was deployed. Certainly the power of prayer had its true effects in my life. This memory has remained with me and in a particular way has inspired me to not only pray for my friends and family but also for my unknown brethren, like the souls of those who lay in the Alexandria National Cemetery.
I also pray in a special way for those in the US military, particularly those who are deployed. This gets thrown around quite a bit, but it is a unique population I try to serve on a daily basis. In my role at the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, I serve the Catholic active duty members of the US military around the world. I am honored to serve in this capacity, but I often feel hopeless with the lack of resources and inaccessibility to priests many deployed members experience. Yet, I remain comforted by the saints who have come before me—St. Joan of Arc who led an army and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati who served the youth in Italy.
World Youth Day (WYD) in Kraków provided an opportunity to petition for Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati’s intercession, not just for the first time in my life, but for the second time. I had first heard about and 'met' Bl. Pier Giorgio at WYD in Sydney. The experience was a bit odd. I was touring a church and had vaguely understood that his body was brought to Sydney as he is a patron saint of young people. I paid my respects and stopped to pray in front of his body. The prayer was something like, "I have no idea what to pray for, but I am here asking for your general intercession..." It came and went quickly. At the end of that WYD in 2008, I quickly moved to my first duty station as a brand new second lieutenant in the US Air Force. For the next six years or so, I would dedicate a lot of my free time to supporting young adult communities wherever I went. Perhaps my general intercession created an open heart to ministry, but surely I also had a saint who has been praying on my behalf. As I walked a second time to the remains of Bl. Pier Giorgio, this time in Kraków, the first group that came to mind to pray for those who were like me, wearing the uniform in a deployed setting feeling tired and perhaps lonely, maybe with no chance to really consider the desolation they are enduring. I entrusted these men and women to Jesus through Bl. Pier Giorgio's intercession. I asked for guidance that we may find a better way to serve these children of God, and for them to find comfort and peace in Him.