KNIGHTS BUILD CHAPEL FOR SOLDIERS, RECRUIT MORE THAN 20 MEMBERS
GARDEZ, Afghanistan — The Resolute Faith Chapel is an unassuming building, but it fills a void for U.S troops.
Built and maintained by the Knights of Columbus, this chapel near Gardez, Afghanistan is the only religious refuge for servicemen stationed at Advising Platform Lightning (or AP Lightning) military outpost.
AP Lightning is home to U.S. Army Soldiers of Task Force Southeast, who train, advise and assist the 203rd Corps of the Afghan military and 303rd Afghan National Police Zone Headquarters.
When U.S. Army Colonel George Walsh arrived to AP Lightning in December 2016, he noticed a lack of enriching off-duty activities and support for Catholics troops — they didn’t even have a Catholic chaplain on base.
“Most of the Catholics were trying to get some of their faith invigorated,” Col. Walsh said. “You’d find the Catholics both attending the Protestant and Catholic services just to get the word. …We had a lot of people starving for the Eucharist and for faith.”
Thanks to Walsh and his brother Knights, an old office space on the base has been converted into a place of worship not only for Catholics, but other Christian denominations as well. The chapel —constructed out of two unused containers — is adorned with a steeple and has stained glass windows. Candles, bells and crucifixes make an appearance for certain religious services.
Walsh worked with Army engineers on site, building pews, a pulpit, an altar and a stand for the Easter candle. Walsh also purchased a synthesizer, speakers, sanctuary candles, a chalice, full communion sets, linens and other items to complete the chapel. He said having issues of Columbia, the Knights of Columbus’ monthly magazine, was also influential in recruiting new members on base.
When a priest from Bagram Airfield base visited, he was shocked by the improvements and level of enthusiasm at the chapel that, before Walsh’s arrival, didn’t exist.
“He looked and said ‘Oh my gosh, this is like a real live church,’” Walsh said.
With the visiting priest’s help, Resolute Faith Chapel was able to get more resources, including books and pamphlets. It also attracted more devotees and a Catholic chaplain began coming to AP Lightning every other week. The chapel held its first Mass in late January 2017.
“It was a blessing to get a Catholic chaplain because they were few and far between and heavily committed,” Walsh said. “He actually let us go ahead and keep the Blessed Sacrament there, which almost brought tears to my eyes, because you can’t ask for any more than our beloved Savior being in harm’s way with us.”
AP Lightning was in harm’s way. The base was often threatened by rocket and mortar attacks. Some mortar attacks landed just outside of it.
During Walsh’s time at AP Lightning, more than 20 Catholics attended services at Resolute Faith Chapel. When his assignment ended in 2017, Walsh asked Chief Warrant Officer Greg Suchanek, a member of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Council 8183 in Lake Ridge, Va., to look after it.
Walsh had known Suchanek from previous tours. In fact, it was Suchanek who recruited Walsh into the Knights of Columbus back in 2011.
“George talked about the chapel and his work, and once we knew I was heading there, he asked that I keep an eye on it,” Suchanek said. “It seemed like a good thing to pick up.”
Suchanek continued improving the chapel, painting the facades, entryway and railings. He also placed a raised, sandbagged area in front to plant bushes and grow grass with the help of a sprinkler system. Several of these improvements were funded by Council 8183.
“For a lot of young soldiers, this is their first deployment,” said Suchanek. “It can be a scary experience, but they don’t necessarily want to talk about any fears with their friends and peers, because it could make them appear weak. For any soldiers with families, it can be hard — no matter the age — and the chapel provides [an] escape.”
The chapel celebrates a Catholic Mass every Tuesday. In 2017, Masses were led by Father Kenneth Bolin, Brigade chaplain for the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division. Father Bolin is a member of Msgr. Cornelius George O’Keefe Council 8250 in West Point, N.Y.
“The impact of a chapel cannot be underestimated in any way,” Father Bolin said. “Whether for a Mass, for prayer or to talk with a chaplain, the chapel is one place where everyone knows they can find respite amidst the chaos that invades their lives”
The days that the chapel didn’t have Mass, Suchanek led a Liturgy of the Word. Every Saturday, Suchanek led troops in praying the rosary.
On Feb. 20, 2018, 21 men became members of the Knights of Columbus at the chapel. Eleven Catholic servicemen from across the U.S. and 10 Ugandans who were guards at AP Lightning joined. Suchanek recruited them by saying the Knights “don’t need you to commit to everything” but just pick one thing because “when we all do at least one thing to help our parish, we can work wonders.”
The Knights returning to Uganda are looking to form Round Table Programs — councils serving more than one parish — to assist their pastors, while those from the U.S. are becoming active members of councils. Suchanek and Walsh remain in contact with them.
Even though Suchanek left AP Lightning in February 2018, the Resolute Faith Chapel still remains a unifying —and safe —place, for all troops on base.
“That little mountain chapel put an umbrella of safety over the top of the entire base,” Walsh said. “It was the protection of the Almighty, the blessed saints and the Blessed Mother that kept us safe.”