Patriotism and pageantry filled Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City on Aug. 16, as veterans and active-duty military personnel from all branches of service gathered for an interfaith prayer service to honor those who have served and their families. Despite having different faiths, all were united by their love of God and country.
Mark Taylor, director of Veterans Services at Catholic Charities and an Army veteran himself, was happy with the event turnout.
“I am so pleased with the positive feedback that I have received from so many who attended,” he said. “It was an outstanding opportunity for us as a community to both gather and pray in thanks for our men and women who have served and are still serving, and share our resources and passion to better serve our poor and vulnerable veterans in need.
“For our first Veteran Prayer Service — and I think there will be many more to come — I feel it was a great success,” he added.
A constellation of service organizations participated in this event: AMVETS, Catholic War Veterans, Citizens/Veterans Advisory Council of Cape May, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Knights of Columbus, Knights of St. John, National League of Families (POW/MIA), The American Legion Family, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Vietnam Veterans of America.
Father Jon Thomas, pastor of the Parish of Saint Monica which includes Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Church, explained the perfect timing of the prayer service. “The event was meant to be a bridge of the Wedding of the Sea on Monday and the Air Show on Wednesday,” he said. “The idea was that if people come to Atlantic City for the Air Show, maybe they’ll come two days earlier.”
Father Thomas also noted, “After the service ended, a number of the veterans came up to me and said that they were very impressed that we opened our church for them. I think the fact that we did an interfaith service was significant. … We involved Jews, Protestants and Catholics, and we’re interested in working and praying with people of all faiths,” he said. “We did something for our veterans and they really appreciate the support from the community.”
Bob Looby, a member of the Governor’s Veterans Service Council of New Jersey and a passionate veterans’ advocate through his affiliation with the American Legion and Catholic Charities, served as master of ceremonies. He drew high praise from many attendees, including Rev. Floyd White, a Lieutenant Colonel in the New Jersey Air National Guard.
“Several years ago, I met a man named Bob Looby, and my life has never been the same,” said Rev. White. “We need more people like him who are engaged with our veterans.”
The prayer service recognized the sacrifice and heroism of the four chaplains, also known as the “Immortal Chaplains,” who perished on the SS Dorchester on Feb. 2, 1943 when a German submarine torpedoed their vessel.
According to eyewitness reports, these chaplains stripped away their own life vests to give to other men. In their final moments of life, they were seen holding hands, singing, praying and giving consolation to the troops as they went down with the ship.
Rabbi Yaakov Bindell, an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, reminded those in attendance that these chaplains, who represented different faith communities, had no idea that they would one day be memorialized as heroes and forever viewed as examples of selflessness, courage and a shared faith in one God.
Attendees participated in a special collection, which was presented to Mark Taylor. The donated funds will support homeless veterans in need of assistance for necessities such as rent, utilities and security deposits.