CAMP TAJI, Iraq — With the traditional anointing of the chaplain's thumb, seven service members from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade received a long-awaited gift just days before Christmas.
It was a gift that had had taken months to achieve and was being given in the most unlikely of places — a warzone.
After 20 weeks of studying and practice, the Soldiers were officially confirmed as Catholics in a confirmation mass at the Tigris River Chapel, Dec.19, bringing them fully into the realm of the Catholic Church.
It was the final step in their path to becoming Catholics, said Maj. Tyson Wood, chaplain, from Long Beach Island, N.J., with the candidates beginning their training almost seven months ago.
"We began this program, called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, about three weeks after we deployed here," Wood said. "My intention was to build good Catholics and receive them into the church just before the Christmas season to celebrate with us all the Christmas joys."
Wood said he had to obtain special permission to confirm the group because of the location and circumstances surrounding their confirmation.
"Not every sacrament can be celebrated by a priest, there are a couple that are reserved for bishops; ordination and confirmation," he explained. "With good standing, a priest can receive special delegation; the Arch Bishop of the Army gave me permission to confirm."
For Wood the end result was worth the months of study, as he noted the exuberant reaction of those confirmed.
"It gives me great joy, it's what I live for," Wood said. "I have felt like a kid waiting for Christmas ... to me this is Christmas and this day could not come soon enough."
"It was an awesome privilege to do this and I've had the chance to do this every time I've been deployed, which you don't get to do often as a priest ... it was an honor," Wood added.
The ceremony was a special one for 1st Lt. Marjana Mair, from Albany, N.Y., who along with her confirmation, was baptized and received her first communion.
Mair said she was part of another religion for many years, but wanted to become a Catholic upon discovering the faith.
"I grew up [Muslim] for 18 years, but when I started studying [Catholicism] I found I related to it ... there was something beautiful about it and I wanted to be part of it," Mair said.
Before she could be confirmed, Mair said she had to undertake the required classes to be eligible for the blessing.
"Over the 20 weeks I learned about the religion through the Bible; what it means to be a Catholic and the way they do things" Mair said. "I felt I had a good grasp of it after that."
Mair said she found her baptism to be a moving experience, despite her nervousness at being in front of the large attendance.
"Once Father Wood was up there with me it felt right, I knew I was doing the right thing," Mair said. "It was a beautiful ceremony and will be one the biggest things I take from this deployment."
The ceremony was also a milestone for Capt. Jeffrey Schenck, from Bitburg, Germany, who said becoming a Catholic was an ambition he had wanted to realize for a long time.
"There've been so many good people in my life that have been Catholic and it's the faith that I saw which they believe in that drove me to become a Catholic," Schenck said. "What sealed the deal was meeting my fiancée who is Catholic, which made us take a look at walking down the Catholic life together."
Schenck said receiving the confirmation vows was remarkable, considering the location and environment he is currently in.
"It felt wonderful to be able to do it here in Iraq with this setting and I couldn't have found a better priest to take me under his wing and educate me," Schenck said. "He [Wood] kept it down to earth and explained everything from a layman's point of view."
"It's just been a great experience doing it here in the middle of everything else going on 24 hours a day ... especially in the circumstances we're in," he said.
This work, A Christmas gift of Catholic confirmation, by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.